updated 6/10/2004 12:33:30 AM ET 2004-06-10T04:33:30

A highway bridge in northeastern China collapsed early Thursday, sending at least three vehicles plummeting into a river, witnesses and the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The Tianzhuangtai Bridge in Liaoning province broke apart at 7:02 a.m. as traffic was passing over it, Xinhua said quoting, local sources.

Vehicles were seen falling from the bridge, but there was no immediate word on casualties, the report said.

The bridge crosses the Liao River between the cities of Panjin and Yingkou in an industrial region about 300 miles northeast of the capital, Beijing.

A man contacted by phone at the Tianzhuangtai Paper Mill located at the bridge’s southern foot said three trucks had fallen into the river following the collapse of a 30-foot section.

A woman at a highway toll station near the bridge said only its center section appeared to have collapsed. Both witnesses said they had no information about casualties, and rescue teams had sealed off the area. Both declined to give their names.

Officials at the local Tianzhuangtai township government refused to give out any information about the collapse.

However, an official with the Transportation Department in the surrounding county of Dawa said the bridge likely crumbled due to structural problems related to age.

“The bridge was just too old,” said the man, who wouldn’t give his name. He said the bridge had been built several decades ago, but didn’t know exactly when.

China has been plagued by the failure of bridges, dams, highways and other infrastructure constructed hastily with shoddy materials during the early decades of communist rule.

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