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Highway Crash Kills 58 Mexicans on Easter Tour

Their bus, said to be going 70 mph, plunges off a dangerous road and into a ravine. A 7-year-old girl and two others survive.

April 18, 2006|Sam Enriquez and Cecilia Sanchez | Times Staff Writers

MEXICO CITY — At least 58 people died Monday when a crowded passenger bus returning from an Easter week tour of Catholic churches careened off a mountain road and fell hundreds of feet into a ravine.

Three people, including a 7-year-old girl, were being treated at a hospital. One man was listed in grave condition but the girl and a young woman were expected to survive, hospital officials said.

State and local authorities believed that 61 people had been traveling Monday from the western state of Jalisco to hometowns in the gulf state of Tabasco.

The accident occurred on one of the most dangerous highways in Mexico, a dizzying route between the cities of Puebla and Orizaba. The accident site is in Veracruz state about 120 miles southeast of Mexico City.

"Everybody in the accident was from Tabasco and most were from the town of Frontera," said Fernando Straffon, a spokesman for the governor's office in Tabasco. "They were taking a tour of Catholic churches in Jalisco."

The bus was descending a mountain road on federal Highway 150, a little more than halfway between the capital and the Gulf Coast port of Veracruz, when it apparently lost control, struck a railing and went over a cliff, officials said.

A federal police officer told a radio station that the bus was traveling downhill about 70 mph and that the driver was apparently trying to reach a lane for runaway vehicles.

Rescue workers left the crash site at sunset but were expected to return today, said Alejandra Peralta, a spokeswoman at the city hall in Maltrata, the nearest village to the accident site.

The bus, which was built in 1984, was designed to hold 45 passengers, said Victoria Hernandez, a spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office in Veracruz.

Authorities were holding the bodies in Maltrata, where family members were expected to begin arriving today to identify them.

The federal government deployed more than 10,000 officers to patrol the country's 30,000 miles of highway during Easter week. Hundreds of thousands of families take to the road for the holiday, nearly emptying the populous capital, Mexico City, and filling up coastal resorts and colonial towns.

Monday's bus accident was among the most deadly of recent years.

In Cameroon in 2003, a two-bus collision killed 70 people. In 2000, 78 people died in China when a bus drove off a bridge and fell into a river, and a collision of two buses in Kenya killed 74 people.

In 1991 in Zimbabwe, 80 schoolchildren were killed when a bus plunged off a mountain road. In 1987, 68 people died when their bus drove into a canal in northern India, near the Nepalese border.

Times researcher Carlos Martinez in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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