Bus pulled from Vietnam river, 14 bodies found

AP News
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Posted: Oct 21, 2010 4:34 AM
Bus pulled from Vietnam river, 14 bodies found

Rescuers pulled nine bodies, including those of three children, from a bus winched off a river bottom and dragged to shore Thursday, three days after the vehicle was swept off the road by floods in central Vietnam.

The remains of five additional passengers, including two brothers, were found floating elsewhere in the Lam River, bringing the number of confirmed dead to 14. Six other people were still missing but presumed dead, as crews used cranes to tug the bus to the riverbank, said Nguyen Nhat, deputy governor of Ha Tinh province. Eighteen other people managed to escape to safety.

Divers located the bus Wednesday just downstream from where it disappeared, but officials said it was stuck in sand and mud about 40 feet (12 meters) down on the river bottom, and they didn't pull it up until Thursday. Thousands of onlookers watched the work from a nearby vantage point, while family members stood by somberly.

Some burned incense and prayed at an altar with fruit and flowers set up beside the riverbank. Others, like Nguyen Van Vu, 28, sat quietly on the ground, staring into the water. He lost his wife and 7-month-old baby, and broke down in tears after seeing their bodies among those recovered from the bus.

"We were only married a year ago," he said, softly. "She was going with our daughter to Nam Dinh province for her younger sister's wedding."

The bus, traveling from the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong to northern Nam Dinh province, was caught in murky, fast-moving water early Monday after the driver ignored police warnings and attempted to plow through the flooded area on the country's main north-south highway.

The vehicle's engine stalled and it was knocked off balance before being pulled under by the current.

Some passengers managed to break a window, but survivors said many people remained trapped inside when the bus began to sink and disappear.

In the past week, parts of central Vietnam have suffered the worst flooding in more than 30 years. At least 45 other people have died.

Vietnam, a tropical country mapped by a spider web of rivers, is prone to storms and flooding that kill hundreds of people every year. The central region has been punished especially hard in the past month. The first round of flooding two weeks ago killed 66 people.

As work began to haul the bus up, police in orange life vests patrolled the swift water, looking for additional bodies.

Officials closed off the road to traffic, but thousands climbed a mountain overlooking the riverbank to watch. They clapped and yelled when the first bodies were fished from the water. The crowd erupted into cheers when the blue, white and green bus was finally hoisted from the muddy river.

After the bodies were identified, they were cleaned and placed in coffins for transport back to their home villages. But some loved ones desperate for closure were left to wait longer.

Tran Dang Luc, 47, survived the ordeal on the bus, but watched his 18-year-old son and 16-year-old niece sink into the water after they both called out to him that they couldn't swim. They were not among those found Thursday.

"I will remain here until the bodies of my son and niece are recovered," he said. "I just cannot leave this place. My last wish is to have the bodies for a proper burial."

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Associated Press writer Tran Van Minh contributed to this report from Nghi Xuan, Vietnam.