Fireworks for Lunar New Year celebrations exploded on a truck in central China, destroying part of an elevated highway Friday and sending vehicles plummeting 30 meters (about 100 feet) to the ground. State media had conflicting reports on casualties.
The huge blast collapsed an 80-meter (80-yard) stretch of a major east-west highway in Mianchi county in Henan Province. It scattered blackened chunks of debris and shattered the windows of a nearby truck stop. There was no immediate word on the cause of the explosion.
A Communist Party spokesman for the nearby city of Sanmenxia, Nie Jianyin, cited provincial officials as saying that five people were confirmed dead and eight hospitalized. The Xinhua News agency reported four dead. Earlier reports by China National Radio and some other outlets of up to 26 people killed were later removed from websites.
Photos posted on the website of a Henan newspaper, Dahe Daily, showed a stretch of elevated highway gone, with one truck's back wheels perched at the edge of a shorn-off section of the highway. Other photos showed fire-fighters below spraying water on scorched hunks of concrete, wrecked trucks and flattened shipping containers.
The location is about 90km west of Luoyang, an ancient capital of China known for grottoes of Buddhist statues carved from limestone cliffs.
Fireworks are an enormously popular part of Chinese Lunar New Year festivities. To meet the demand, fireworks are made, shipped and stored in large quantities, sometimes in unsafe conditions.
A result is periodic catastrophe: In 2006, on the first day of the Lunar New Year, a storeroom of fireworks exploded at a temple fair in Henan, killing 36 people and injuring dozens more. In 2000, an unlicensed fireworks factory in southern China exploded, killing 33 people, including 13 primary and secondary school students working there.