Hintze Ribeiro Disaster

The 116-year-old metal bridge at Entre-os-Rios linked the towns of Castelo de Paiva and Penafiel in Portugal.

One Sunday evening, 4 March, a bus with locals on excursion and two cars were swallowed up by the river when the bridge collapsed.

The 200-meter long bridge is believed to have collapsed after one of its support pillars gave way due to prolonged heavy rain fall. Parts of the structure crashed in the river, taking the vehicles with it. More than 70 people died.

The collapse of the bridge resulted in a political crisis for Antonio Gueterres 5-year socialist rule. The morning after the accident the minister for Public Affairs, Mr. Coelho, along with his entire staff of five persons, resigned. Mr. Coelho had been the president’s right hand and his resignation contributed to the people’s dissatisfaction with the president.

Relatives of the missing gathered on the bank of the Douro river at Entre-os-Rios to watch the efforts of divers and firecrews in dinghies.

One of them, Maria Aurora Sousa, said three of her cousins were on board the bus that plunged into the river as the bridge collapsed.

"As soon as we saw the destruction, we knew there could be no hope," she said.

"All we can do now is wait for the bodies."

On the night of March 4, 2001, the Hintze Ribeiro disaster occurred when the Hintze Ribeiro Bridge, made of steel and concrete and named after its builder Prime-Minister Ernesto Hintze Ribeiro, collapsed in Entre-os-Rios, Castelo de Paiva, Portugal, killing to 70 people, including those in a bus and three cars that were attempting to get to the other side of the Douro river. Fast waters and a storm at the time gave no chance for an immediate rescue, and the victims drowned. Although the site of the accident was more than 30 kilometers (18 miles) away from the sea, the strong river current meant that bodies were found as far away as the north coast of Spain and one even France. The causes of the disaster have not yet been established, and as of 2006, the case is still on trial. The bridge was more than 100 years old. Hours after the accident, the then Minister of Transportation Jorge Coelho resigned. The following week, dozens of bridges across Portugal were closed for immediate repair. The tragedy caused widespread shock across the nation, with all television networks broadcasting continuous news bulletins, and many solidarity campaigns being organized to help the victims' relatives. The collapse was due to two decades of illegal but allowed sand extraction which compromised the stability of the bridge's pillars, as well as disregard from the competent rulers despite the warnings of divers and technicians. Later the sand extractors became the only ones indicted for a civil and criminal lawsuit.