43 dead as bus plunges into canal in Bengal

| | Kolkata

Tragedy struck Bengal on early Monday morning when a passenger bus reportedly crammed with passengers and bound for Malda plunged into a deep canal at Daulatabad in Murshidabad district —some 220-km from Kolkata — leaving at least 43 people dead, and about a dozen injured eyewitnesses said.

The tragedy perhaps the worst in the State Transport Department’s history occurred when the South Bengal Transport Corporation was crossing the 500-metre bridge at a high speed swerved to its right in a bid to avoid head-on collision with a vehicle coming from the opposite direction, a passenger who swam to safety said.

The driver was talking over mobile phone when the accident occurred he maintained. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who cut short a State programme in Kolkata and flew over to the accident spot along with Transport Minister Suvendu Adhikary quickly announced Rs 5 lakh for next to the kin of those dead, Rs 1 lakh for those grievously injured and Rs 50,000 who escaped with minor injuries. Local MLA Mahua Moitra also rushed to the spot.

The bus was travelling from Karimpur in Nadia to Malda via Murshidabad and Behrampore and crashed into the cement railing, toppling over into the 30-plus-feet-deep-canal when the driver swerved violently to his left, sources said.

Villagers who assembled at the spot almost spontaneously in thousands rushed with their boats to begin the rescue work and “most of the seven people rescued alive, form the cold water were saved by the locals who rushed them to Murshi-dabad Medical College Hospital.

Even as the NDRF and the State Disaster Management Group joined rescue operations much late in the day along with Fire Brigade personnel the angry locals pelted stones and torched a vehicle for their late entry prompting police to lathicharge and tear gas the unruly mob,  police officials said.

Four heavy-duty cranes were pressed into service. “As the bus fell right in the middle of the canal which is as big as a river it was difficult for the cranes to pull it out,” district officials said.

The rescue operations were over by late in the evening and about 38 bodies trapped inside the inundated bus were pulled out when it was pulled up by the crane.

Even as heart-rending wail of the victims’ kin rented the air rescue staff said some more “maybe ten of them” were missing and would be searched for when the rescue work would begin on Tuesday.



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