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Identifying Panama bus crash victims will ‘take time’: officials

#Identifying #Panama #bus #crash #victims #time #officials

Panamanian authorities said Thursday it would “take time” to identify the dozens of migrants who died in one of the country’s worst-ever road accidents while trying to make their way to the United States. 

The bodies of many of the victims of Wednesday’s early-morning bus disaster are being kept in a refrigerated truck in the city of David after the local morgue ran out of space. 

About 40 were killed and some 20 others injured when the bus transporting them to Panama’s border with Costa Rica plunged from an embankment near Gualaca, some 400 kilometers (250 miles) west of the capital Panama City. 

The bus carried citizens from countries including Ecuador, Venezuela, Haiti and Cuba, Juan Garcia of the National Migration Service told the Telemetro broadcaster.

They had recently arrived in Panama after crossing the Darien Gap, an inhospitable jungle area on the border with Colombia, and were traveling westward toward Panama’s other border, with Costa Rica.

From there, they intended to continue their journey through Central America and Mexico to the United States.

When the accident happened, the migrants were headed for a shelter at Gualaca to rest after a 14-hour journey of some 700 kilometers. 

Local media said the crash happened as the driver was turning the bus around after missing the destination.

The vehicle apparently left the road on a bend and fell, hitting a rock and a minibus on a road below.

There were 66 passengers and two drivers on board, according to officials, who had given differing figures for the death toll. 

– Fingerprints, DNA needed –

Garcia said 40 foreigners were confirmed dead, even as the prosecutor’s office said the mangled state of the bodies made an exact count difficult. 

“This process will take time,” the Institute of Forensic Medicine said in a statement, referring to identification of the bodies.

“We will need information from the countries of origin” of the migrants, such as fingerprints, dental records and DNA samples from relatives, it added.

Cuba, Ecuador and Colombia have confirmed some of their citizens were among the dead. 

About 20 injured people had been transported to hospitals in David.

The Panamanian Red Cross has donated body bags to the morgue in David and said Thursday it was involved in efforts to try and get hold of family members of the dead and injured.

Thousands of migrants arriving via Colombia risk their lives every year traveling by foot through the thick, swampy Darien Gap, a roadless jungle area replete with wild animals, dangerous rivers and criminal gangs. 

Dozens die there every year.

Despite the dangers, the number of irregular migrants arriving in Panama en route to the United States nearly doubled in 2022 to a record 248,000, immigration authorities reported on January 1.

More than half were Venezuelan; the rest included Ecuadorans, 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 migrants.

Panamanian authorities also help transfer hundreds of migrants every day in private buses from one border to the other.

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