On Monday, February 21, shortly after 5:00am, on the highway that runs from Santa Ana to San Salvador, El Salvador, a horrible accident took place, which started with a tractor trailer and a car, and resulted in two buses crashing. 15 people have died as a result of Monday’s accident, 9 declared dead shortly after the accident with the death toll rising [20 are now dead as of Feb 28, 2011]. 80-100 remain injured, several with serious injuries in the ICU.
More detailed but graphic El Mundo article with witness reports covering Feb 21 accident. I translated two vivid parts, as online translators do not do much justice:
I don’t know how many dead I counted. Seven, eight, I don’t know. But, inside the bus, among the twisted metal it looked like more bodies were trapped. One could easily see the leg of a woman who died there. They were macabre scenes. Several bodies were dismembered. Almost all the dead looked like textile workers that traveled early to get to their jobs.
Testimony from one of the victim’s on the bus:
I fainted from the impact, he told me. When I asked him about the cause of the accident, he told me: ‘The bus was going so fast that the driver couldn’t even use the breaks. When he saw the other bus crossed in the road, he wanted to avoid it but we stopped against the tree.
Article on La Prensa Grafica regarding the Feb 23 bus accident
Initial reports tried to blame either the car or the tractor trailer, but testimony that came later from survivors of the horrendous crash revealed that both bus drivers were driving at high speed, and “fighting over the road and fighting over passengers.”
I’m going to explain what this means because for those of us who grew up with a transit system in a developed country, this does not make sense.
The bus system in El Salvador is not run or owned by any government or quasi-government agencies. It is a “collective transport system” with many different owners of various bus routes, manned by bus drivers and fare collectors who basically have the run of the roads. The route fleets consist primarily of old school buses, most from the United States, and older transit buses, and numerous micro-buses which resemble the hippie volkswagon buses in size and shape.
Fares are all collected in CASH, by hand, which is the root of many problems which make the bus system dangerous for drivers and fare collectors, and for passengers. Gang members routinely demand “rent” from buses, that covers the first endangered group. The second group is constantly in peril because the cash system means every passenger is another coin or “cha-ching” on the register. Bus drivers and fare collectors, if they are the slightest bit dishonest, are “garnishing profits” for every “head” they can get on their bus.
Thus, it creates a “fighting for the road and passengers” problem, or “Peleando por Via” as it is called in Spanish. Imagine a group of passengers waiting just around the bend for a bus. Two buses are approaching and can see the passengers. Both buses, even if on the same route, want to be “first to pick up the passengers” and get the money first.
So the bus drivers play a game and continuously pass one another, to be “first” to get them. Sometimes it reaches the point where two buses can be seen driving in both lanes of a two-way road, one going against traffic, trying to pass the first bus, and the other with traffic, speeding up to avoid getting passed.
Passengers are treated like animals instead of humans, and the result is what we saw on Monday.
!Newsflash! A second major accident just happened, outside of Santa Tecla on the highway near the “Los Churros” water park. There, witnesses are saying the same “Peleando por Via” phenomenon occurred, and one of the buses breaks failed. 3 people have died so far, as of 9:30pm local time in El Salvador, one of which was a 10 year old boy.
I have driven on that highway near Los Churros with my husband, and it is a winding section of road with many twists and turns, which my husband always refers to as “dangerous” when we pass through there. Not the place to be jockeying for position as the “Alpha Bus”.
One would think after Monday’s horrific accident that bus drivers would calm down at least for a few days, but between yesterday and today 3 bus accidents happened, this serious one near los Churros where as of this hour, 3 died, and another two bus accidents between yesterday in San Miguel and today in Chalatenango which left a total of 22 injured. Complete barbarism on the part of the bus drivers in all of the above, some even ran away from the scene of the accidents.