Malda, July 19: A bus packed with office-goers and students overturned on the rain-drenched highway near Malda and skidded into a roadside pond this morning, killing at least 37 passengers.
Among the dead were a one-year-old baby, seven bank employees and three teachers.
Official sources said 12 passengers have been admitted to the Malda district hospital, where the condition of three is critical.
Witnesses said the bus, which had a 53-passenger capacity, was carrying at least 70 people. They said it lost control on the Malda-Manikchak highway near Lakshmipur village, 5 km off Malda, while trying to save a goat. Others claimed the front tyre had burst.
The bus was on its way to Chanchol, about 75 km from Malda, when the accident occurred around 8 am.
Dinesh Halder, who was repairing his rickshaw at the Lakshmipur stand, said the bus skidded for a distance before plunging into the pond. “The pond is now full because of heavy rain for the last few days,” he said.
Halder said people waiting at the stop ran to the rescue. “The door of the bus was closed from inside. We had to break the windows to rescue the passengers.”
“It was suffocating,” Rajsekhar Mondal said from his hospital bed. “I came out through the window. Someone threw me a bamboo pole and I swam ashore.”
Residents stopped passing lorries, cars and even motorcycles to carry the injured to hospital. They alleged that police arrived nearly three hours late even after being informed within 10 minutes of the accident.
The dead, including four women, were laid out by the roadside. Among the bank employees who died, four were from the Gour Gramin Bank and three from State Bank of India.
“The bank employees of Manikchak, Englishbazar and Chanchol usually take this particular bus so they can reach office by 9. There was virtually no work in the banks after news of the accident reached,” said Mrinal Roy, leader of the officers’ association of the SBI.
Debabrata Bhattacharjee, a manager at the Gour Gramin Bank, left behind his 70-year-old mother, wife and two children. “I don’t know how we will survive,” wept his wife Sucharita.
At Writers’ Buildings, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said relatives of the dead would be given compensation, but did not specify the amount.