RIO DE JANEIRO – An oceanfront stretch of an elevated bike lane built ahead of the Olympic Games collapsed on Thursday when it was hit by a strong wave, killing at least two people, Rio de Janeiro authorities said.
Rio Municipal Secretary Pedro Paulo Carvalho said a third person was thought to be missing. He said a probe was under way to determine what caused the accident on the Tim Maia Bike Path, which was inaugurated in mid-January and connects the tony beachfront neighbourhoods of Leblon and Sao Conrado.
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The structure snakes alongside a beachfront highway, perched high above the water on concrete and metal pillars set into the rocky cliff.
Carvalho declined to answer questions about whether shoddy workmanship may have been to blame for the accident. He said it appeared the approximately 150-foot (50-meter) stretch collapsed after being struck beneath by a strong wave. Ambulances were dispatched to the scene and helicopters hovered over the beach.
Rio de Janeiro is hosting the Summer Games beginning in August, and the bike lane was among the games’ legacy projects. While no Olympic event will be held on the path itself, the collapse will likely add to worries about the country’s readiness to host the games.
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An Associated Press photographer at the scene saw two dead bodies laid out on the Sao Conrado beach. A woman thought to be the wife of one of the victims kneeled over his body, kissing his face and begging for another moment to “say goodbye.”
The two dead haven’t been named, but Diego Goncalves Fernandes, a beach vendor who saw the bodies floating in the water before they were fished out by a helicopter, said both were men. A crowd of beachgoers gathered around the bodies, which were laid out on the sand and covered by colorful beach sarongs. Nearby, other beachgoers continued a game of beach soccer.
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Thursday is a public holiday in Brazil, and with the weather sunny and warm, the city’s bike paths, beaches and other outdoor recreational spots were packed.
Since its January 17 inauguration, the path has earned kudos for its spectacular views. But detractors complained that the narrowness of the path made cyclists prime targets for mugging. In the weeks after it was opened, local newspapers also featured photos of its speedy deterioration, showing missing handrails and rusting metal parts.
The bike path runs parallel to a road high above the sea that will be used for the road-cycling event in the Olympics. Construction is under way to extend the bike path westward to the Barra da Tijuca neighbourhood that is one of the Olympic hubs.
Asked about worries over that stretch of the bike path, Carvalho said its engineering would also be subject to extra scrutiny.
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The collapse happened just hours after the flame for South America’s first games was kindled in Ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the ancient games. Carlos Nuzman, the head of the Rio de Janeiro organizing committee, expressed optimism speaking at the ceremony.
“We are incredibly proud to have come so far, sailing through some of the most challenging waters the Olympic movement has seen,” Nuzman said before hearing of the accident, adding that the Olympic flame “brings a message that can and will unite our dear Brazil.”
The kindling of the flame heralded the start of a 15-week journey that will culminate with the August 5 opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro.
Associated Press writers Jenny Barchfield and Stephen Wade in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.