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60 Die in Uganda Bus Accident

July 19, 2002

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RUTOTO, Uganda (AP) _ Hundreds of mourners gathered at the roadside Friday where a fuel truck and a bus collided, killing more than 60 people in a fiery explosion in western Uganda.

The charred bodies were still inside the smoldering wreckage while police waited for pathologists to arrive from the capital, Kampala. Police were also trying to determine the identity of 10 foreigners traveling on the bus from Congo.

The fuel tanker’s brakes failed as it was coming down a hill near Rutoto, about 180 miles west of Kampala, said police spokesman Asuman Mugenyi. The truck rolled for at least a mile, gaining speed, until the driver totally lost control on a sharp turn, and smashed into the oncoming bus, he said.

Witnesses said the passengers, estimated at more than 60, had no time to escape.

``I heard a massive explosion ... I saw flames enter the sky,″ said Meridad Turyomurugyendo, a farmer.

The bus was traveling to Kampala from Mpondwe, a town on the Congolese border, 190 miles west of the capital, Mugenyi said.

Makmot Okello, a police official from the area, said the foreigners were U.N. workers based in Congo. They were heading to Kampala, he said.

U.N. officials in Congo could not confirm the reports and police were checking immigration records Friday to identify the passengers.

Residents started a traditional bonfire for the dead, which helped keep the mourners warm as they waited through the night to recover the bodies of their loved ones. The bonfires are supposed to burn until the dead are buried.

Women from Congo crossed the border early Friday morning to get news of relatives, but began wailing when they saw the blackened chassis of the bus laying on its side and the charred bodies.

The condition of the remains will make identifying them difficult. Both vehicles were completely destroyed and the fuel spill set fire to banana fields on either side of the road, burning an area 330 feet long and 100 feet wide.

Vincent Kazuma, son of bus driver Harasto Kazuma, 50, had already identified his father’s body, since it was still behind the wheel of the bus.

``My father was at the wheel and saw me driving my car. He stopped and asked me ’Why do you drive in the middle of the road?‴ Kazuma said. ``Then he told me that he needed me at his place in Kampala on Sunday. He shook my hand and started the bus. That was the last time I saw him.″

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