BEIJING— Chinese authorities have detained four people, state media said Saturday, a day after at least 11 people died when a truck loaded with fireworks for Lunar New Year celebration exploded, collapsing an elevated portion of highway in central China.
The accident sent vehicles plummeting 30 meters (about 100 feet) to the ground, and state-run China Central Television said 11 people were now confirmed dead and another 11 injured. The official Xinhua News Agency said the collapse smashed and buried at least 25 vehicles. Rescue work continues Saturday.
CCTV said Saturday that the truck that exploded took the road without proper registration and had false papers saying it was transporting general merchandise. It said police detained four suspects but did not provide further details.
Preliminary investigations blamed the explosion for the collapse of the elevated highway, according to a statement by the provincial government of Henan. An 80-meter (260-foot) stretch of the highway in the province’s Mianchi county collapsed, scattering blackened chunks of debris and shattered the windows of a nearby truck stop.
A truck driver interviewed on CCTV said he was only 20 meters (yards) away from the explosion.
“I heard a huge bang and immediately braked. I saw small fireballs falling down one by one,” said the unidentified truck driver, whose truck windshield was smashed from the impact of the blast.
Photos posted online by Xinhua 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 firefighters below spraying water on scorched hunks of concrete, wrecked trucks and flattened shipping containers.
There was no immediate word on the cause of the explosion. It occurred about 90 kilometers (55 miles) 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.