A bridge collapsed under an overloaded truck in Guinea, throwing scores of passengers into a river and killing at least 70, witnesses and the West African country’s state radio said Wednesday.
The truck was ferrying merchandise and people from a market near the southeastern town of Gueckedou when the accident happened Sunday, state-run RTG radio reported.
The 50-year-old rock and concrete bridge collapsed as the truck was crossing, tipping the vehicle and sending people as well as bags of cement and sacks of rice crashing into the river. Many of the passengers drowned, trapped under the cargo, RTG said.
A taxi driver who saw the accident said there were about 80 people in the truck.
The bridge, which joins two villages, “just gave out under the weight of a (large truck) full of merchandise: rice sacks, cement bags, jugs of palm oil,” Ibrahima Balde said by telephone. “It’s usually pedestrians that take that bridge, and sometimes small cars. But never loaded trucks.”
At least 20 people were injured and taken to the hospital, where some later died, the radio station reported. The death toll rose from 65 overnight to 70, the radio said, citing hospital sources.
Red Cross volunteer Idiatou Camara said the hospital was overwhelmed.
“The hospital is under-equipped and the personnel insufficient to manage this crisis,” Camara said by telephone.
Guinea, a country of 10 million on Africa’s West Coast, is deeply impoverished despite having half the world’s supply of bauxite — the raw material used to make aluminum — as well as iron ore, gold and diamonds.
Longtime President Lansana Conte has been accused of using Guinea’s riches to live lavishly while doing little to improve the lives of the people, who have taken to deadly anti-government protests in recent months.
Michel Koundouno, a legislative representative for the regional hub of N’Zerekore, said the accident was proof of the way the country’s crumbling infrastructure has been neglected.
“It’s the dilapidated roads in Guinea’s forest region that you see in this accident. We have there tracks and 50-year-old bridges,” he said in the capital, Conakry. “Often, the villagers reinforce them with a little cement and some big stones.”
In rural areas where buses are rare, large open-backed trucks are often a main form of transport — carrying grain sacks, sheep, bicycles and people. Trucks are often piled high with merchandise, and then passengers climb on top, or hang onto the sides.