NEW DELHI: An overcrowded bus drove off a bridge and into a canal in central India on Tuesday (Feb 16), killing at least 40 people, an official said.
Six people were rescued after the accident near Satna village in Madhya Pradesh state, District Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Choudhary said.
He said more than 46 people were on board the bus, which was designed for 34.
Rescuers recovered 40 bodies and are searching for other passengers.
It was unclear what caused the bus to swerve, but India’s vast network of roads is poorly maintained and notoriously dangerous.
Local media reported the bus was completely submerged, and images showed officials in orange life jackets using rescue boats to look for survivors.
The state government has ordered an inquiry into the accident.
An initial investigation suggested the driver lost control of the bus, reports said. The bus then hit a bridge before crashing into the water.
Local officials stopped the release of water into the canal, which sped up the rescue operations and allowed two cranes to pull the bus out, reports said.
The Times of India newspaper quoted sources saying it took three hours to lift the vehicle out.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office tweeted that the families of those killed would receive 200,000 rupees (US$2,750) in compensation.
“The entire state is standing with those affected,” Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said in a video message.
High-speed vehicles jostling with motorbikes, pedestrians and cyclists combine with poor infrastructure and poorly maintained vehicles to make India’s roads treacherous.
In 2019, more than 150,000 people died – 410 every day or 17 an hour – in almost half a million accidents, according to the government.
The United States sees nearly five times more accidents than India every year, but the number of deaths in India is four times higher, according to the Times of India.
The main causes are excessive speed, not wearing helmets – sales of two-wheelers far outstrip those of cars – and not using seat belts.
Earlier this month, Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari inaugurated Road Safety Month, saying that the government aimed to halve road deaths and accidents by 2025.
In the same month, an out-of-control dumper truck crushed fifteen people to death as they slept by the roadside in the western state of Gujarat.
The dead included a baby girl, eight women and six men. The truck collided with a tractor carrying sugarcane just after midnight at a crossroads.