RABAT (AFP) - More than 30 people, mostly schoolchildren returning from a sports meet, were killed Friday in Morocco when their bus caught fire after a head-on collision with a trailer truck.
The early morning accident at Chbika in southern Morocco was the deadliest in the North African kingdom since 2012 when a bus plunged into a ravine, killing 42 people.
The collision in the province of Tan-Tan killed at least 33 people, MAP news agency reported, quoting local authorities and revising an earlier toll of 31 dead.
They said nine injured people were taken to hospital, but two who were in a serious condition later died.
“A majority of the victims are children aged eight to 14,” a regional official from the sports and youth ministry told AFP.
Abdeslam Ahizoune, head of the country’s athletics federation, said: “It is a drama that touches us all.”
Private media said the bus was transporting the young athletes and their coaches from a competition in Bouznika, a beach resort in the north between the capital Rabat and Casablanca.
Pictures posted on YouTube and on several news websites showed the mangled wreckage of a bus on fire, and witnesses said many of the victims had been asleep when the collision occurred.
“It is a horrible accident. The toll is huge. The fire broke out when the bus and the truck collided and then it spread,” social worker El Hassan Mouline told 2M state broadcaster, speaking from the scene.
‘WHOLE TEAM LOST’
He said the victims included children who were taking part in a sporting competition, a local athletics champion and an official from the sports and youth ministry.
“The whole team is lost,” Mouline said.
News of the accident triggered panic and parents of children who were on the bus rushed to the hospital in the town of Guelmim, demanding the names of the victims, Medi1TV reported.
The broadcaster also reported that at least four children had survived the tragedy but were being treated at hospital for “third degree burns”.
King Mohamed VI sent a message of condolences to the families and said he would pay for the burials as well as cover the hospital fees for the injured.
Interior Minister Mohamed Hassad visited the scene of the tragedy, while France expressed “solidarity at this tragic time”.
Road accidents are common in Morocco, where officials say about 4,000 people are killed each year – the equivalent to about 11 every day – in a country of 34 million inhabitants.
In 2010, Morocco imposed tougher driving laws, and last year announced tighter traffic controls and a budget of US$265 million on improving infrastructure for the period 2014-2017.
The authorities say that human error, including speeding, is the main cause of most road accidents in the country.
The World Health Organisation says traffic accidents cost Morocco one billion euros (S$1.5 billion) each year, or about 2 per cent of its gross domestic product.