A road accident in northern Nicaragua on Wednesday left 16 people dead, including 13 Venezuelans, and 47 injured, on a route regularly used by migrants heading to the United States.
“Sixteen people died, among them 5 women and 11 men. Thirteen of Venezuelan nationality, one Nicaraguan and two pending identification,” according to a statement from the National Police.
The accident occurred in the sector known as La Cucamonga slope, a dangerous intersection located at kilometer 171.5 of the Pan-American Highway, in the district of Condega, department of Esteli, in the north of the country.
The bodies were taken to the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Managua.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, regretted in a statement the “tragic accident”.
According to police investigations, the accident occurred when a bus hit two cars. “As a result of the collision and excessive speed, the bus driver lost control and fell off the cliff,” the statement said.
Alfredo Palma, driver of the bus, is in custody and will be referred to the competent authorities.
The bus was covering the route between Managua and Jalapa, a municipality near the border of Nicaragua and Honduras, a route commonly used by migrants.
According to IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, “this tragedy brings to 192 the number of people on the move who have lost their lives in Central America and Mexico so far this year”.
Police, Civil Defense soldiers, municipal and health officials, firefighters and immigration authorities went to the area to help the victims.
“We were activated to help the people who were injured and some of them died”, said to an official media the mayor of Esteli, Francisco Valenzuela, who recognized that the rescue operations were “difficult”.
Meanwhile, the Vice President of Nicaragua, Rosario Murillo, expressed her government’s “condolences” to the families of the Nicaraguans and of the “Venezuelan brothers” who died in the accident.
She informed that they are waiting for the Venezuelan government to contact the relatives of the deceased “to know their disposition” regarding the repatriation of the bodies.
Among the victims is a Venezuelan couple, whose three year old daughter survived the accident and was placed under the protection of the Nicaraguan Ministry of Family, Adolescence and Childhood while the family is being contacted, according to the official La Nueva Radio Ya.
People were screaming
At the site of the accident, a cliff about 80 meters deep, the overturned bus still remained Thursday with the tires up.
There were “many injured, people were crying for their companions, children, it is painful,” Mario José Rugama, a resident of the area and witness of the minutes after the accident, told AFP.
“The poor people were screaming, they came out broken, they came out full of oil because the bus was overturned with the engine down, so people were bathed in the hot oil,” he said.
According to the witness, most of the passengers “were foreigners, Venezuelans, Haitians, Cubans I think”. “Migrants as always leaving their lives” in search of a better life, he commented.
According to the Police, most of the deaths were caused by “severe cranioencephalic trauma and polytraumatism”.
“It is a total, total disaster, it moves anyone to see the lamentation of the poor people stuck who could not get them off [the overturned bus],” Rugama added.
The injured have been transferred and treated at nearby hospitals.
Among the injured is an 11-year-old girl who was left “in a coma” after being hit by the colliding vehicles as she was walking along the road, her grandfather Leonel Benavides told AFP.
Nicaragua’s highways are part of the Central American route that migrants from different latitudes, mainly Latin Americans, use to head towards the north of the continent, with the final destination being the United States, in search of better living conditions.