20 killed, 54 injured in Atimonan smashup
LUCENA City, Quezon, Philippines—An eight-vehicle smashup on a remote downhill stretch of a highway in Atimonan, Quezon province, early Saturday left 20 people dead and 54 others injured, including a baby girl.
Police investigators said a Bicol-bound truck carrying hog feed crashed into a Super Lines passenger bus as it descended the zigzag diversion road on Maharlika Highway in Barangay Sta. Catalina, Atimonan, at about 1 a.m., setting off a series of crashes.
The bus driver lost control of his vehicle after the first collision and hit six other vehicles—two buses, two cargo trucks, a trailer truck and a van—coming from the opposite direction before toppling over on the narrow downhill road, pinning many of the victims, said Chief Insp. Jonar Yupio, the Atimonan police chief.
Senior Supt. Ronaldo Genaro Ylagan, the Quezon police provincial director, said 19 of the fatalities died on the spot while one was declared dead on arrival in a hospital in Gumaca town.
Social workers said a 1-year-old girl was among the survivors. Rescuer Jun Panuil said they found the baby muddied and covered in blood from other victims on the side of the road near the bus. He said the blood had made rescuers suspect the child was seriously hurt, but she had only a few scratches.
All those killed, including four children, the driver of the first truck and his assistant, were on either the truck or the first bus that was hit.
Yupio said most of the fatalities were on the Super Lines bus that was carrying 49 passengers.
Parts of the bus pinned many of the victims and others were killed by flying metal debris, including the engine.
The driver of the Super Lines bus, Albert Nava, was unscathed and is now detained at the town jail.
According to Yupio, the drivers of the cargo trucks claimed to have been hit by the oncoming Super Lines bus but the latter’s driver said that before he lost control of his bus, another vehicle had bumped him from behind.
Yupio said the Super Lines bus driver’s story was confirmed by the initial police investigation which found that the truck in the first collision had suffered mechanical failure causing it to slam into the rear of the Super Lines bus.
Henry Buzar, coordinator of the Quezon Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council which immediately dispatched a team of rescuers to the accident site, said the rescuers had a hard time retrieving some of the injured because they were pinned down inside the wreckage.
Of the 20 fatalities, the police bulletin has so far identified only 12. The were John Omar Talicol, Camacho Nexter, Maria Teresa Diesmo, Perfecto Zaño, Henry Malaluan, Ronnie Villeja, Noe Nuñez y Cera, Danilo Espencilla, Michael Villamor, Rajick Muksan, Jodelyn Consuelo and Rene Jimenez.
The 54 who were injured were brought to separate hospitals in Quezon.
Dark, unlighted place
Yupio described the site of the accident as dark with no electric lamppost. “The road was also slippery because of the heavy rains,” he said.
He said there have been about five other accidents on the narrow downhill road, referred to as the zigzag diversion road, between the towns of Pagbilao and Atimonan, about 115 kilometers southeast of Manila.
Atimonan Mayor Jose Mendoza asked the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to put more traffic signs along the diversion road, a known accident-prone area.
“I noticed that the diversion road seriously lack road signs that could guide motorists, especially during rainy nights. These trucks and buses have strong lights not to see the signs,” Mendoza said in a phone interview.
Road signs pilfered
The DPWH has long been complaining that steel road signs are often stolen by people who sell them to junk shops.
Quezon Gov. David Suarez, in a phone interview, called on the DPWH to maintain important road signs along major highways in the province.
“If we want to make our highways safe for all travelers, it is imperative that there are road signs in all important points, particularly along Maharlika Highway,” he said.
Ylagan, who had rushed to the Atimonan accident site, also noted the absence of road signs, particularly in several dangerous spots of the diversion road.
Suarez said that if the signs were lost to highway thieves, these should be immediately replaced by the DPWH so as not to endanger the lives of motorists.
He said he had already asked the Quezon police to establish an outpost along the zigzag diversion road. The police outpost would reassure motorists that it is safe to travel even at night and would also serve as a deterrent against lawless elements, he said.
Ylagan said the provincial police office would have to seriously study the governor’s proposal.
“The diversion road is a long, isolated stretch. We have to first look into the safety and protection factor of the police detachment,” he said. With a report from AP
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