Nine dead, five injured as highway bridge collapses in central Colombia

Central Colombia bridge

At least nine construction workers were killed and five injured when a partially-constructed bridge collapsed in central Colombia on Monday, an official from the disaster response agency said. The death toll is expected to rise.

The bridge, located in Chirajara on the border of Cundinamarca and Meta provinces, was to be part of the highway that connects the capital Bogota and the city of Villavicencio, and was not yet in public use.

The cause of the collapse, which sent pieces of the bridge down into a canyon below, is under investigation, Reinaldo Romero, head of disaster response for Meta province, said.

“Up to now there are nine dead and five injured,” Romero said. “We are doing a check to rule out other victims.”

First responders at the scene of the accident have pulled from the rubble at least three bodies, believed to be employees of the road’s concession company Covinandes. According to a police eyewitness, about sixteen persons were working on the bridge at the time of the collapse.

The bridge is part of a major infrastructure project on the much-transited Bogotá-Villavicencio highway. The distance between Bogotá and Villavicencio is 80 kilometers, but given the difficult terrain, travel time can take up to four hours.

The road is also known for being very narrow and steep, dropping-off 2,000 meters from the height of the Sabana de Bogotá, to reach the lowlands of the Eastern plains.

The bridge was to be one of the engineering feats of Colombia’s 4th Generation highway modernization. The so-called Vía al Llano connects the capital with the oil and agriculturally rich Llanos Orientales.

Last November, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos inaugurated one of the largest tunnels of the planned highway expansion to completed this year. Every day, some 12,000 vehicles use the Vía al Llano, which has three tolls, and offers ambulance, police and tow truck services.

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