FIREWORKS for Chinese New Year celebrations have exploded on a lorry in central China, destroying part of an elevated motorway and sending vehicles plummeting 100ft to the ground.
State media has yet to confirm the number of casualties.
The huge blast collapsed a 260ft stretch of a major east-west route 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 had been taken to hospital.
The Xinhua News agency reported four dead. Earlier reports by China National Radio and some other outlets revealing up to 26 people had been killed were later removed from websites.
Photos posted on the website of a Henan newspaper, Dahe Daily, showed a stretch of elevated motorway gone, with one lorry’s back wheels perched at the edge of a shorn-off section of the road. Other photos showed firefighters below spraying water on scorched hunks of concrete, wrecked vehicles and flattened shipping containers.
The location is about 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 occasionally catastrophic. 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.