| The truck carrying the bees waits next to a beekeeper's shed. Picture by Surajit Roy
Malda, Nov. 30: A seething swarm of bees that almost blacked out the sun descended in a deafening drone on Simuldhap village this morning, attacking everyone who failed to get out of their way.
The bees, which unleashed terror, crippling traffic movement on NH 34 and sending villagers scurrying indoors for cover, were being transported in a truck by honey collectors. They escaped when the vehicle turned turtle.
The mayhem that lasted till sundown left 18 people ' the driver, seven beekeepers, eight persons who had hitched a ride on the truck and two villagers ' in need of urgent medical attention and hundreds more nursing painful stings.
Villagers lucky enough to get out of harm's way in time sealed themselves in their houses all day. Only after sundown, when the bees calmed down and returned to their queens in the boxes from which they had escaped, did a semblance of normality return to the area.
Vehicles began to use the highway, albeit cautiously, some two hours after the bees spread out in the area. The truck was carrying 244 boxes, each with about 10,000 bees.
The driver, Bishnu Halder, who was admitted to a nursing home along with the beekeepers and hitchhikers, said the accident occurred because of the bad road. 'One moment, everything was fine, the next the left front wheel of the vehicle came loose because of the bumpy road. As we were taking stock of our injuries, millions of bees swarmed out of the boxes and began stinging us. Forgetting our pain, we ran for our lives.'
The truck had left Ashoknagar in North 24-Parganas and was headed for a village near Raiganj where beekeepers set up camp for two months at this time of year to collect honey from mustard blossoms.
As news of the bee attack spread, officials from Old Malda police station, under whose jurisdiction the area falls, rushed to the spot.
'We saw several swarms of bees and they were spreading fast. We beat a retreat and summoned the fire brigade,' an official said.
As the fire fighters arrived, their hoses ready to fire water cannons and wash out the winged terrors, beekeeper Mohammad Tawakali, who was only slightly injured, pleaded with them.
'This is our only livelihood. The bees have settled down and are just flying around. If you kill them, we will suffer immensely. This is the only source of income,' he told them.