Locals shocked by France’s worst bus crash in decades

Local residents express shock as French newspapers headline with Friday’s bus crash in the Gironde region, the worst road crash in France in decades.

LIBOURNE, FRANCE (OCTOBER 24, 2015) (REUTERS) – French newspaper headlines on Saturday (October 24) were dominated by the country’s worst road crash in more than 30 years which killed 43 people.

At least 41 people on a bus carrying elderly day-trippers were killed early on Friday (October 23) when the bus hit a truck head-on and caught fire near Puisseguin in the Gironde region, about 60 km (35 miles) east of Bordeaux. Two people, including a young boy, died in the truck. A total of eight people were injured.

The bus was carrying about 50 pensioners south to the Bearn region from their homes in the village of Petit Palais and surrounding hamlets. The crash occurred on the road between Puisseguin and Libourne just a few minutes after the pensioners had boarded the bus.

Among the dead were the driver of the articulated lorry and a young boy who was in the cab, according to the local prefect’s office. News reports said the child was about three years old.

The driver of the bus was among the survivors, who were able to exit through the front door he opened, according to a source close to an inquiry that was under way within hours.

The source said the truck apparently veered onto the wrong side of the road as it came around a bend.

Local residents said they were shocked by the incident that hit so close to home.

“I first learned about it (the accident) from my customers who were talking about it yesterday morning, and then I listened to the news yesterday evening after work. It is tragic. It seems that such accidents have not happened in like 30 years. It is surely shocking, especially because we know several people (involved in the accident), it can be someone that we know, yes it is shocking,” said Alexandre, owner of a café in Lisbourne.

“It is dreadful. At first we thought it was an attack or something like that, which happens very rarely in the region. Everyone is surprised of course. It is sad for (the victims’) families and for everyone,” said vegetable vendor, Frederic.

“(The accident shocked) all of France first, then our region. I think there has never been such an accident. It will have a big impact on the families,” said local butcher, Patrice Benoit.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said that, as far as he could tell, all the bus passengers were French and from the region.

On Saturday families of victims arrived at a chapel of rest in Puisseguin, which was heavily guarded by police.

It was the worst road accident in France since 53 people, mostly children, died in a bus crash in Burgundy in July 1982, according to the independent road safety organization Association Prevention Routiere.

Stricter road regulation and lower speed limits followed, and traffic deaths in France have fallen steeply since. According to official statistics, more than 16,000 people were dying on the roads every year in the early 1970s. In recent years the annual death toll has dropped below 4,000.