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At least 33 dead in Panama migrant bus crash

#dead #Panama #migrant #bus #crash

At least 33 people died Wednesday when a bus transporting migrants bound for the United States crashed with a minibus in Panama, an official in the Central American country said.

Updating the death toll from 15, Panama’s national director of migration Samira Gozaine told the Telemetro broadcaster that “for now, we have information of 33 people dead.”

President Laurentino Cortizo earlier announced that 15 people had lost their lives in the early-morning crash in Gualaca, Chiriqui.

The bus had 66 occupants including the driver and an assistant when it crashed some 400 kilometers (250 miles) west of the capital Panama City, police transit operations commissioner Emiliano Otero told journalists.

Authorities have yet to report the nationalities of the victims, or the number of people injured. Cortizo said the government was providing medical care for survivors.

Gozaine told AFP by phone there were three critically injured people at the crash site.

Several of the injured were taken by ambulance to a hospital in the Chiriqui provincial capital city David, according to local media.

– Risk –

The bus was transporting migrants from Darien, a jungle area in Panama’s east bordering Colombia, westward toward Costa Rica from where the passengers aimed to continue their journey through Central America and Mexico, and ultimately to the United States.

Local media reported that the driver had forgotten to stop at a hostel near Gualaca where the passengers were to have rested before continuing to Costa Rica.

The crash happened as the bus was turning back.

Thousands of migrants arriving from Colombia risk their lives beating a path through the thick, swampy Darien Gap, a jungle area replete with wild animals, dangerous rivers and criminal gangs. Many have died there.

The impenetrable topography has meant that plans to build a missing stretch of the Pan-American Highway through the Darien Gap have never been realized.

The number of irregular migrants arriving in Panama en route to the United States nearly doubled in 2022 to a record 248,000, and more than half were Venezuelan, the immigration authority reported on January 1.

Others included Ecuadorians, Haitians and Cubans, as well as people from Africa and Asia.

The government of Panama, in collaboration with United Nations agencies and aid organizations, has set up camps to provide humanitarian assistance to the never-ending migrant arrivals.

Panamanian authorities help transfer migrants in private buses to Paso Canoas on the Panama-Costa Rica border.

“It is lamentable this traffic accident, these are people looking for better living conditions,” Gozaine told Telemetro as she underlined “the risk” people take on this journey.

She said migrant buses to Paso Canoas usually travel at night when there is less traffic and conditions are cooler.

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