Wednesday, January 04, 2012

River tragedy

TWO students – a teenager and a five-year-old – drowned while nine others suffered injuries when the bus they were travelling in was washed away by a fast-flowing river, The National reports.
The incident happened at around 9pm on Monday at the border of Hagen Central and Anglimp district, Western Highlands province.
An eyewitness said the 15-seater bus was washed away by the Lel River.
It was carrying Michael Pati and his family members from a birthday party in Olgulben.
They were travelling to Wurup.
According to Alois Meringa, who lives near the scene of the accident, the bus was slowly crossing the Lel bridge when the strong river current washed away a 20m section of the road, carrying with it the bus and the passengers.
Meringa said an alarm was raised that night and the nearby villagers rushed to the scene.
Despite the strong current, they managed to rescue nine passengers trapped inside the bus.
He said two passengers – identified only by their first names as Cedric, five, and Wanuga, 18, were washed away.
Wanuga should be doing Grade 10 this year at Kombalopa High School.
The two missing youngsters were from the Okune tribe in the Baiyer district.
They were related to Pati’s wife.
The villagers looked for them on Monday night and continued their search yesterday along the river banks but could not find them.
Among the injured were Pati’s small daughter who broke her leg and a 16-year-old girl who sustained deep cuts to her legs.
A bus crew also sustained a deep cut to his forehead and two wo­men had injuries to their backs.
Meringa said the injured passengers were rushed to the Mt Hagen Provincial Hospital on Monday night.
Some were treated for minor injuries and released while others were admitted.
The water pushed back by a blocked culvert destroyed many food gardens, coffee trees and other properties upriver.
Meringa blamed the incident on poor engineering work carried out by a contractor when it sealed the road from Warakum to Wurup Kaip about 10 years ago.
He said when the Lel River had a wooden bridge, water flowed freely even during floods.
But when the road was sealed, the contractor removed the wooden bridge and replaced it with the culvert which was too small to allow excess water to flow through during heavy rain.
Meringa said they had raised complaints with local MP Jamie Maxtone-Graham and Governor Tom Olga but nothing had been done to fix the problem.
Fellow villager Peter Puri blamed the accident on the negligence of the leaders and contractor.
Puri said if the bridge had been fixed properly, or if the contractor had done his job well, the incident would not have happened.

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