15 July 2012: At least 39 pilgrims, including 34 Indian citizens, have been killed in this morning’s horrific bus crash in Nepal. An overcrowded tour bus carrying between 100 and 120 Hindu pilgrims slid off the slippery highway in rainy conditions and plunged several hundred feet into the Gandak Canal in southern Nepal.
The Hindu pilgrims, most of whom were travelling from Uttar Pradesh, were en route to a temple in the Nawalparasi district of Nepal, some 150km west of Kathmandu. Rescue efforts are continuing at the accident site. 39 bodies have so far been retrieved from the swollen canal, with the death toll expected to rise – 27 of the passengers who were on the bus are still missing, many presumed drowned.
The accident occurred about 250km south west of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu. According to police officials in the Nawalparasi district, 37 of the 39 bodies that have been found have been identified. Of the deceased, only 3 were Nepalese citizens, with the remainder being of Indian descent. The deceased include 10 adult women, 28 adult men and a five year old girl.
A rescue team including a doctor trained in emergency medicine and an official from the Indian Consulate were sent immediately to the site of the accident, which was close to the India – Nepal border. As well as sending representatives from the consulate, the Indian embassy in Kathmandu has set up an information room to provide updates about Indian nationals that were involved in the accident.
The tragedy occurred early on Sunday morning, when the bus driver appeared to lose control in wet road conditions and veered into the Gandak irrigation canal, which was swollen with floodwaters from weeks of torrential rain. Most of the passengers on the bus were Indian Hindu pilgrims who were on their way to attend a religious festival in Tribenighat, a temple in the Nawalparasi district.
Of the survivors, ten Indian nationals were seriously injured. Currently there are conflicting reports of what caused the accident, with a number of the survivors claiming that the driver of the bus was drunk and had been driving recklessly prior to the crash. In addition, the bus was overloaded which may have contributed to the accident – some passengers were even seated on the roof of the vehicle. The Nawalparasi police are conducting an investigation into the cause of the accident and it is as yet unclear as to whether the bus driver will be held liable for the deaths and injuries caused.