Latin America & Caribbean

Dozens of Colombian children killed in bus fire

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Media captionPolice warned that the number of deaths could rise

At least 32 people, almost all children aged 14 or under, died when a bus caught fire in northern Colombia.

Eighteen passengers and the driver reportedly managed to escape the blaze.

They were returning from an event at an evangelical Christian church near the city of Fundacion, about 750km (465 miles) north of the capital, Bogota.

The co-ordinator of the regional emergency response corps said there was a gasoline canister inside the vehicle which sped up the fire's spread.

Fear for survivors

Maj Eduardo Velez said the fire started after the driver attempted to start the faulty bus by pouring fuel into the engine, which he accessed through the floor of the cabin.

However, one surviving girl told local media the driver got off the bus "to fill the tank with petrol".

"The bus was on fire, the driver ran away to get water and then didn't come back," the 11-year-old recalled.

"I broke a window and got my sister out, but I couldn't save my two brothers," she said.

Deadly irregularities

Local media said the bus did not have any emergency exits.

Neighbours rushed to the spot and tried to extinguish the flames with sand, but they said the bus burned out "within seconds".

The bodies of the victims have been taken to the city of Barranquilla for identification, as they were burned beyond recognition.

The mayor of Fundacion, Luz Stella Duran, said that some of those injured were in a "delicate state" and hoped that the number of dead would not rise further.

The driver has been arrested. Prosecutors told Colombian radio station Caracol he did not have a driving licence and his bus had not been through the required inspection.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos travelled to Fundacion on Sunday evening to speak to the victims' relatives.

He said that the bus, which was owned by a private transport company, also lacked mandatory insurance.

The president, who is running for re-election in presidential polls on Sunday, promised to improve the safety of Colombia's public transport.

"This is a tragedy which shouldn't have happened," he told the grieving families.

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