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Girl, 8, only survivor of bus crash that killed 45 Easter pilgrims on South Africa’s deadly roads

MMAMATLAKALA, South Africa (AP) — An 8-year-old girl was the only survivor after a bus full of pilgrims heading to a popular Easter festival in the South African countryside crashed into a bridge over a mountain pass and plunged into a ravine. before catching fire, killing the other 45 people on board.

It’s a tragic reminder of how deadly South Africa’s roads become during the Easter period, when millions of people crisscross the country over the long holiday weekend. Authorities repeatedly warned motorists of the danger and posted several messages urging caution just a day before Thursday’s horrific crash.

The girl somehow survived after the bus carrying worshipers from neighboring Botswana left the bridge, fell more than 50 meters and caught fire when it hit the rocks below, authorities say .

The girl was in stable condition in hospital after being admitted with serious injuries and was “in good hands”, a local health department official said Friday. Details of his injuries have not been released.

Forensic investigators recovered what they believed to be 34 of the 45 bodies, but could not be certain of the exact number, reflecting the horrific nature of the accident. Many victims trapped inside the bus were burned beyond recognition, authorities said.

Dr Phophi Ramathuba, head of the Limpopo provincial health department, said only nine of the bodies found were likely to be identifiable.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the victims, who all appeared to be from Botswana, were traveling to the rustic town of Moria in Limpopo province for the Easter weekend pilgrimage that attracts hundreds of thousands of faithful of the Zion Christian Church.

The church is headquartered in Moria and this was the first time a full pilgrimage had taken place since the COVID-19 pandemic. Worshipers flocked to the small town that features a giant star — the church’s emblem — and the words “Zion City Moria” painted in white on the side of a hill.

The Church was established in South Africa in the early 1900s as a Christian denomination that also retains some African traditions. He has around 7 million followers across the Southern African region.

Ramathuba said South African authorities had asked Botswana’s religious leaders to come and help identify the victims.

Good Friday and Easter Monday are national holidays in South Africa and many of its neighbors, where millions of people travel to, from and across the country. For some South Africans, it is a chance to return to their hometowns and villages after working in the city. Migrants also return to their country of origin to see their families. Some, like the pilgrims who died Thursday, make religious trips.

Road travel can be dangerous; The South African Road Traffic Management Corporation reported that 252 people died in road accidents between Maundy Thursday and Easter Monday last year.

Authorities said it appeared the bus driver lost control and the vehicle slammed into the barriers along the bridge and then went over the edge. The driver was among the dead.

South Africa’s Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga was in Limpopo province to attend a road safety campaign when she was informed of the “devastating news” of the accident, according to the national traffic department .

Ramathuba said she was attending an Easter prayer meeting when she was called to the scene of the accident at Mmamatlakala Bridge, near the town of Mokopane, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) east. north of the South African capital, Pretoria.

“I went to the scene of the accident, but now as the Ministry of Health we are focusing on the brave little survivor. She is in good hands in a hospital and experts are taking care of her,” Ramathuba told reporters. She declined to give details of the child’s injuries, but authorities released a photo of the child. child lying on a hospital bed and being examined by a doctor.

Ramathuba also declined to say whether the child’s parents or other family members were on the bus, saying authorities needed time to find and notify the families of the dead, most of whom were in Botswana.

Meanwhile, forensic investigators searched the wreckage amid rocks and steep cliffs. At least 11 bodies are believed to still be inside what remained of the charred bus, which was nearly crushed.

“We were there,” said local resident Simone Mayema, who said she was one of the first to arrive after the accident. “We tried to help (but) we couldn’t do anything because there were flames.”


Imray reported from Cape Town, South Africa.


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