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Victims of Portugal's deadly bridge collapse remembered 20 years on

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A rescue helicopter circles above the remains of the bridge on March 5, 2001.
A rescue helicopter circles above the remains of the bridge on March 5, 2001.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Gael Cornier
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Portugal's President has paid tribute to the victims of the Hintze Ribeiro bridge collapse on the 20th anniversary of the disaster.

A total of 59 people were killed when the metal road bridge collapsed on the night of March 4, 2001.

This included 53 people who were travelling on a bus and six other occupants of three cars that fell into the River Douro, south-east of Porto. There were no survivors of the collapse in one of Portugal's worst road disasters.

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa paid homage to the victims of the tragedy on Thursday.

"We recall a difficult moment that marked the recent history of Portugal, respecting the memory of those who left, but also the courage of those who remained," read a statement from the President's office.

"Two decades later we can, without ever forgetting the past, recognise the future that the tragedy inspired."

"To honour the victims of Entre-os-Rios is also to salute their legacy, an example of solidarity, perpetuated in the work that the community, families and friends built in their name."

A church ceremony paying tribute to the victims with 59 flowers was also held by the association of the victim's families (AFTVER) and broadcast online due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

The bridge, which linked Entre-os-Rios to Castelo de Paiva in northern Portugal, was more than 110 years old at the time of the collapse. Local residents had raised concerns before the disaster.

A government inquiry found that the bridge had failed due to a "combination" of factors including the stormy weather that had weakened the structure.

Portugal's then-minister of transport, Jorge Coelho, resigned from his post hours after the collapse.

In the following weeks, the country's government launched an emergency programme to construct two new bridges in Castelo de Paiva and repair other structures across the country.

On Thursday, the head of the regional development commission (CCDR-N) signed a new investment agreement to restore another bridge over the Douro River.

The mayor of Castelo de Paiva, Gonçalo Rocha, stressed the importance of the day in question "with regard to the memory of those who left".