YAOUNDE - Officials in Cameroon say at least 53 people died and 21 were severely burned Wednesday morning when a passenger bus collided with a truck illegally carrying fuel in the western village of Santchou, near the town of Dschang.
Awa Fonka Augustine, governor of the West Region of Cameroon, where Dschang is located, says the crash occurred when a pick-up truck, illegally transporting fuel, collided with a passenger bus.
He says 53 people died in the bus on the spot. He says it is difficult to identify corpses burned beyond physical recognition in the collision between the 70-seat bus and the truck that was illegally transporting fuel. He says 29 victims in very critical condition have been rushed to hospitals in the town of Dschang and in Bafoussam, the capital of Cameroon’s West region.
Augustine said he had ordered the arrest of three occupants of the truck, who were unhurt and escaped immediately after the accident.
Police officer Emmanuel Azegue, who witnessed the collision, says the truck was driving above 120 kilometers per hour on a hill, in the night, with poor visibility.
He says he does not understand why Cameroon drivers overspeed whenever they drive on roads linking major towns of the central African states. He says when accidents occur, it is difficult for passengers to survive because a majority of them do not use their seat belts.
Cameroon’s Ministry of Transport says an average of 2,000 people die on the country’s roads each year.
Transport Minister Jean Ernest Messina Ngale Bibehe blames drivers and bus owners for the increasing number of accidents. He spoke by telephone on his way to the Santchou wreck site.
Speaking by telephone on his way to the Santchou wreck site, Bibehe said the main causes of road accidents in Cameroon include the poor technical state of vehicles, drivers getting tired and refusing to rest when covering long distances and overspeeding. He said if drivers exercise caution and are patient on portions of roads that have degraded, there will be few accidents.
But drivers in Cameroon blame the government for not investing to improve the country's roads.
Ahmadou Gambo, spokesperson of the Cameroon Union of Bus drivers, says although some drivers are reckless, a majority of accidents in Cameroon occur because roads are either very bad or just six meters wide which is too small. He says it is very difficult for a driver to avoid a pothole he suddenly finds in front of him and a coming vehicle without causing an accident. He says many buses end up in the bush because they were either struggling to avoid potholes or coming vehicles on very small and narrow roads.
Bibehe said that going forward, people caught drunk driving will lose their license, and the government will also suspend transport companies that fail to respect the driving code.