AT least 42 people perished in an inferno, while 26 others sustained serious burns when a Beitbridge-bound Brooklyn Express bus burst into flames near West Nicholson on Thursday night.
By Rex Mphisa
National police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba said the driver of the bus suddenly sensed a strange smell in the bus and then switched on the interior lights.
“It is suspected that there was a gas tank in the bus that caused an explosion after it caught fire. The driver veered off the road to the left side and then stopped. The whole bush was immediately engulfed in fire,” she said.
Most of the victims were burnt beyond recognition.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, in his message of condolence to bereaved families, said the West Nicholson bus disaster compelled government to re-look at the traffic laws and traffic enforcement practices.
“What is heart-rending about this latest accident is that flammable material was allowed onto the bus, thus causing a fire which trapped, burnt and consumed innocent passengers. What a painful experience and death!” he said.
Police, who were yesterday morning removing charred remains of the people from the bus shell, temporarily stopped work after running out of body bags.
Relatives of the deceased sat curiously by the roadside as police sifted through the bus shell removing the remains of those burnt beyond recognition.
The accident occurred at around 11pm at the 140km peg from Beitbridge along the road to Bulawayo, just 7km before West Nicholson.
Of the deceased, only one woman was not burnt and it is suspected that she jumped from the bus, but died outside.
Twenty-seven bodies were yesterday morning taken to Gwanda Provincial Hospital mortuary, while others were stuck on metal frames of what remained of the seats of the bus.
“This is sad, sad and it’s all caused by economic hardships,” a government official was heard speaking to his colleagues.
A huge section of the provincial civil protection unit was on the scene giving support to police, who apart from limited resources, showed dedication.
Diligently, police combed the bus picking up human remains and carefully storing them in plastic bags, most probably for forensic identification.
A fire crew from Beitbridge Municipality was also on the scene, although they might have reacted late.
A relative of one of the survivors said they received a text message from him, saying he was standing helplessly outside the bus as it burnt. A sombre mood hung over the accident scene.
It is understood that the driver and some crew members survived, but mostly those from Zvishavane perished.
“It’s difficult to understand how our small town will cope with this. Almost everyone is affected,” Zvishavane town secretary Tinoda Mukutu said.
He had to cut short a course in Bulawayo after receiving the news of the disaster which comes two weeks after the Rusape bus disaster in which 50 people perished.