Vol. 5 Num 927 Sun. January 07, 2007  
Front Page

41 killed as bus goes up in flames

At least 41 people were killed when an overloaded bus fell into a ditch and burst into flames at Suwagazi in Comilla on the Dhaka-Chittagong highway yesterday.

The overcrowded bus, belonging to SR Paribahan, a transport company, was speeding towards Chittagong when it lost control 20 kilometres from Comilla town and veered into a ditch around 1:15pm. The bus instantly burst into flames when its fuel tank ruptured and the diesel caught fire.

Comilla's Deputy Commissioner (DC) Mohibul Hossain Chowdhury told The Daily Star last night, "We have recovered 41 bodies from the wreckage. We do not think there are any more bodies in the wreckage."

"All of the bodies were burned beyond recognition," the DC added. The charred bodies were clustered together, making the body count even more difficult and it is feared the death toll might rise.

Mohibul said the fire service and police finished their rescue efforts early in the evening after the last of the human remains were recovered.

Witnesses and survivors said trapped passengers were heard screaming from inside the bus after it burst into flames but the ferocity of the flames made it almost impossible for the locals to attempt any rescue effort.

Yusuf, a survivor, was seen calling out the name of his friend Ramiz, aged 62, who he feared was burned alive in the bus. "I can't find him anywhere. I did not realise he was not with me when I escaped the bus," he said.

One of the handful of survivors told our Comilla correspondent the bus, which has the capacity to carry 52 passengers, was packed with nearly 70 passengers desperate to return to Chittagong after their Eid holidays and ahead of the blockade programme that the Awami League and its allies had called for.

The bus was already at capacity when it left Dhaka yesterday morning but it had picked up more passengers along the way, the survivors said. The dead were mostly women and children.

The DC also said no one was injured critically as the people who managed to escape the bus before it burst into flames had only suffered minor cuts and bruises. He said those were the only survivors of the accident.

Earlier, locals were seen chasing the firemen after two fire service units from Comilla arrived far too late to put out the flame.

While hundreds of locals thronged the spot, a large number of them were seen wailing under the shadow of the dark smoke.

As the rescue efforts continued, hundreds of trucks, buses, and cars were stuck on both sides of the highway. The traffic was stagnant for at least two hours. Chouddagram and Comilla police later brought the traffic situation under control.

Rescuers try to pull the wreckage of the ill-fated bus back on the highway after it veered into a ditch and exploded near Suwagazi in Comilla yesterday. PHOTO: Focus Bangla