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The BBC's Fergus Niccoll
"The government had ignored repeated warnings that the bridge wasn't safe"
 real 56k

Transport Ministry spokesman, Antonio Capinha
"Its a very old bridge and the weather conditions in Portugal were bad"
 real 28k

Antonio Katinya, Ministry of Public Works
"The government had intended to build a new bridge"
 real 28k

Paulo Teixeira, Mayor of Castelo de Paiva
"It is a disaster for our town"
 real 28k

Monday, 5 March, 2001, 13:21 GMT
Portugal bridge collapse 'kills 70'
Entre-os-Rios bridge
One of the bridge's columns is said to have collapsed
About 70 people are feared dead after a bridge over the River Douro in northern Portugal collapsed, taking a coach and two cars with it.

Entre-os-Rios bridge
Built 1885
200 metres long
50 metres high
Linked towns of Castelo de Paiva and Penafiel
Carried 1,600 vehicles a day
Locals warned government about its condition
The coach is believed to have been carrying more than 60 passengers. It is not yet clear how many people were in the other vehicles.

Local media is reporting that two bodies have been found, and civil defence officials say the chances of finding any survivors are slight.

The disaster has prompted accusations of government negligence, and the public works minister has already resigned.

The 116-year-old metal bridge at Entre-os-Rios linked the towns of Castelo de Paiva and Penafiel, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) upstream from Portugal's second city, Porto.

Portugal map
The 200 metre long bridge is believed to have collapsed after one of its support pillars gave way following prolonged heavy rain, sending parts of the structure crashing into the swollen river 50 metres (150 feet) below.

One eyewitness said the two cars sank immediately, and the headlights of the bus were visible as it sank slowly and was swept down river.

Portugal's Public Works Minister, Jorge Coelho, confirmed the extent of the disaster to a news conference at which he also announced his resignation.

"It is thought that 70 people died," Mr Coelho said. "I assume political responsibility. I believe that it is no longer possible for me to remain in my post."

Jorge Coelho
Jorge Coelho: Resigned as public works minister
Prime Minister Antonio Guterres has accepted his resignation.

In a brief statement, Mr Guterres said that Mr Coelho had acted with great dignity and was "certainly without any personal responsibility for the tragic events that have left the country in mourning".

The government has ordered an official accident inquiry and declared two days of national mourning.

Leticia Malta, in charge of the emergency centre in Porto, said the chances of finding survivors were "practically nil".

Castelo de Paiva's Mayor, Paulo Teixeira, said he had repeatedly warned the government that the bridge, crossed by 1,600 vehicles a day, was unsafe.

"I frequently appealed to the government because the bridge is very old," he told the BBC.

"I told the government to make a new bridge. I didn't have the power to close the bridge.

"The power is in the hands of the government."

Day trip

Rescue official Adao Barbosa said the water where the vehicles fell was believed to be 15 metres (50 feet) deep.

"It's going to be a very risky operation because of the powerful current."

A dam upstream from the accident site has closed its sluice gates in an attempt to reduce the river's flow and help with the task of recovering the vehicles.

The bus was taking 67 local people home to Castelo de Paiva after a day trip to see almond trees in blossom in the Douro valley region.

The disaster happened at about 9pm local time (2100 GMT) on Sunday.

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29 Jan 01 | Europe
Fatal floods sweep Portugal
15 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Portugal
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