Sukulwenkosi Dube-Matutu, Gwanda Correspondent
FORTY two people were burnt to death while 27 others sustained injuries after a Musina-bound bus they were travelling in caught fire near West Nicholson on Thursday night.
The Brooklyn Bus accident which occurred at around 11PM at the 181 kilometre peg along the Bulawayo-Beitbridge Road, is suspected to have been caused by a gas cylinder that exploded.
The bus which was carrying mostly cross border traders, was travelling from Zvishavane to Musina in South Africa.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa who described the accident as a tragedy, said families of the deceased will be assisted to bury their loved ones.
“I was devastated to learn of last night’s tragedy, the second major accident in recent weeks. The thoughts and prayers of a grieving nation go out to the wounded and the families of those killed. We will ensure they get the care and support they require,” said President Mnangagwa via his Twitter account yesterday.
“As the police investigate the circumstances that led to this tragedy, I urge all my fellow citizens to be extra cautious on the roads – check the safety of your vehicles, slow down, put safety first. We all have a role to play in saving lives and making Zimbabwe a safer country.”
Chief police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba said it is suspected that there was a gas tank that caused an explosion in the bus that was carrying 70 passengers. She said 42 people were burnt beyond recognition.
“The bus driver 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 and it caught fire. The driver veered off the road to the left side and then stopped. The whole bus was immediately engulfed in flames,” she said.
Snr Asst Comm Charamba said the names of the deceased will be released once their next of kin have been informed. She said members of the public are urged not to carry flammable materials or explosives when travelling.
Matabeleland South Civil Protection Unit Committee chairperson who is also the Provincial Administrator Ms Sthandiwe Ncube said Government has availed $16 000 for funeral expenses. Ms Ncube said families will be given the money after the DNA tests.
“Government has so far availed $16 000 to assist bereaved families. Each deceased person will be allocated $500 which will only be released after a DNA test to confirm the deceased’s identity.
“As the CPU we have set up a help desk at the Gwanda Provincial Hospital which comprises of various stakeholders such as ZRP, Social Welfare, Local Government, Ministry of Women Affairs, Registry, Ministry of Health and counsellors to help survivors and those who would like to make inquiries,” she said.
Gwanda Provincial Hospital acting medical superintendent, Dr Rutendo Manyati said 13 of the injured were admitted to the hospital while three others, including the bus conductor were transferred to Bulawayo after sustaining serious injuries.
“We received 27 patients that were injured in the inferno some sustained burns while others suffered fractures after jumping out of the bus. Three were transferred to Bulawayo- one had over 90 percent body burns while the other two sustained over 70 percent burns. 16 people were admitted while eight were treated and discharged,” she said.
The Chronicle news crew visited Gwanda Provincial Hospital and spoke to some of the survivors, including the bus driver, Mr Ndabezinhle Sikhosana.
Mr Sikhosana who escaped with minor burns said he was on his way to Musina with more than 60 people on board when he smelt a gas like chemical in the bus. He said he slowed down the bus and started inquiring from the conductor where the smell was coming from.
Mr Sikhosana said he then heard an explosion which seemed to have originated from behind his seat and it was followed by a huge flame which engulfed the entire bus.
He said the bus hit a tree and came to a halt and by then it was in flames. “I was overtaking a lorry when I smelt the gas. I then slowed down and minutes later we heard an explosion which originated from somewhere behind my seat and within seconds the whole bus was engulfed in flames. I managed to escape and so did some passengers who went out through the door and windows. Other people remained trapped in the bus and we watched helplessly as they were being devoured by the flames. The flames were enormous and we had to stand afar as we watched in disbelief.
Mr Sikhosana said the bus did not have a fault that he was aware of. He said he did not know if any of the passengers had brought a gas cylinder on board as the luggage was the responsibility of conductors.
Another survivor, Mrs Ntombizodwa Ndlovu who sustained bruises from jumping out of the bus said she saw the flame coming from the front of the bus and escaped through a window. She said she was on her way from Zvishavane to Musina to buy some groceries.
Matabeleland South Provincial Affairs Minister Cde Abednico Ncube visited the survivors at the hospital yesterday morning. He sent condolences to the bereaved families.
In Bulawayo, the Minister of Health and Child Care Dr Obadiah Moyo yesterday also visited the three accident victims, two women and a man who are admitted to the United Bulawayo Hospitals.
Dr Moyo was accompanied by the Bulawayo Provincial Affairs Minister Cde Judith Ncube.
“I have seen the patients who were burnt as a result of the explosion that took place on the bus. The burns are quite severe. I pray and hope they will recover soon. We want to see them recover and go home. The majority of the patients are at Gwanda hospital,” said Dr Moyo.
One of those admitted said she escaped through the window after she realised that the bus had caught fire.
“I was travelling to Musina with my two relatives. As I was sleeping, I felt some heat at my feet and I woke up and checked where the heat was coming from. I saw flames under the seats. By that time the bus was filled with smoke. Everyone was screaming and I jumped through the window,” she said.
The woman said her other two relatives died because no one could rescue them.
The other patient said someone pulled her out of the bus.
This incident comes a week after 46 people died on the spot when two buses side-swiped in Rusape at the 166-kilometre peg along the Harare-Mutare Highway.
Meanwhile, Brooklyn Express bus company said it was cooperating with investigators and expressed its “heartfelt apologies” to families of the deceased while wishing the injured a speedy recovery.
It said it has communicated with its insurers and is working on assisting the victims while conscious of the fact that lives cannot be replaced.
The company said it is remorseful, deeply shaken and stand with the nation in mourning the loss of life for such a huge number of its passengers and fellow citizens in an explosion it blamed on “a gas canister smuggled by a passenger”.
“Brooklyn Express is a small to medium business with more than ten years of experience plying the Bulawayo, South Africa route. The business grew as a result of people who entrusted their safety in the hands of its trained bus drivers.
“As a law abiding business, we will wait for the official report regarding the accident from the investigating team and are cooperating with the relevant authorities,” the bus company said in a statement.
The company said it would want to thank all those who attended the scene of the accident that included police and medical teams. “In our operations, this accident will serve as a startling reminder to continue to abide and remain committed to high safety standards while trying our best to decrease the scourge of people smuggling gas canisters onto the bus.” — @DubeMatutu