Residents of the Italian city of Venice stopped in dismay Wednesday to pay respects to the 21 foreign tourists who were killed when an all-electric shuttle bus crashed through an overpass guardrail and fence, plunging more than 30 feet to the ground.
Its a road that Venetians had traveled many times and considered safe, but they now stopped to inspect the aging guardrail and rusted fence.
The bus, which was just a year old, crashed to the ground and landed upside down on Tuesday night. The 40-year-old driver was among those killed, and 15 people were injured.
The driver, who had an untarnished record, had just started his shift shuttling tourists from Piazzale Roma, at the edge of Venices famed canals, to a four-star campground on the mainland offering bargain accommodation.
A video shows the city-owned bus disappear from the frame, as another larger bus traveling behind it continues along the overpass. Prosecutors said the shuttle bus scraped the guardrail for at least more than 150 feet before its fiery crash to a surface road opposite the Venetian borough of Mestres train station.
The guardrail was bent to the pavement, the fence was ripped open and the front of the bus was completely crushed.
A bus crash near the Italian city of Venice kills at least 21, including Ukrainian tourists
Inexplicable, said Mayor Luigi Brugnaro, who added that he had driven on the overpass hundreds of times. Regional Gov. Luca Zaia said the circumstances suggested the driver may have suddenly become ill.
Investigators hope that video from the scene will reveal the reason for the crash.
Five Ukrainians and one German were among those killed. The Italian driver was identified as Alberto Rizzotto. Two of the dead were children. The rest of those who perished have yet to be identified.
The injured included at least four Ukrainians, part of a larger group that included a 3-year-old girl who suffered serious burns, as well as visitors from Spain, Austria, France, Croatia and Germany. Nine were being treated in intensive care for trauma, including burns and fractures. Survivors included a young Austrian brother and sister.
They are still in what we call the shock phase, with confused memories. They are still in that state of agitation and confusion typical of the traumatic event,” said Rita Lorio, a psychologist at Mestre’s main hospital, one of five treating the injured. They are not yet in that phase of awareness of what happened.
The tourists are all believed to have stayed at the Hu Venezia Camping in Town, just a 15-minute drive from the shuttle buss pickup point at Piazzale Roma, at the edge of Venices famed canals linked to the mainland by a bridge.
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The crash has shocked Venetians, two-thirds of whom live on the mainland. Many stopped on Wednesday morning to pay their respects, staring at the gaping guardrail and fence. One man stopped on his motorcycle to tie plastic flowers to a post.
Family members of the dead and survivors were trickling in to Venice from around Europe on Wednesday. The Veneto region declared three days of mourning, and flags were flown at half-staff at government buildings.
said the fact that the bus was electric contributed to the massive fire and made rescue operations more difficult.
I wont forget what I saw for the rest of my life, Brugnaro, the mayor, told the Associated Press from his office in Mestre. Seeing all those people crammed inside a bus, down there, is something you cant describe.”
Venice is in the process of replacing its buses with electric vehicles. They have been introduced on the city’s Lido island several years ago, with a small percentage added to the fleet in Mestre last year.
Brugnaro said the crash didn’t give him reason to pause the city’s plan to upgrade city transportation vehicles to less-polluting electric buses, even if it needs to be determined what role the battery might have played in the ensuing blaze.
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The bus drove off the overpass, he said.
It has nothing to do with the fact that it is electric, the mayor said.
The bus was made by China-based Yutong Group Co., which describes itself as a large-scale industrial company specializing in buses. It wasnt clear from photographs at the scene which of the companys models was involved.
On its website, Yutong shows newer models with multiple electronic safety systems including a lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking, collision warning and collision mitigation control.
The website says the buses have buffer spaces for high-voltage electrical components at the front and rear. It also says the buses have enhanced anti-crash structures.
Fully spatial and thermal isolation between battery cabin and passenger compartment poses no threat to passengers, even if the batteries catch fire, the website says.
Gianni Amadeo, an 80-year-old retired musician, stopped in disbelief Wednesday at the site, which he passes regularly between his home and a garage he uses for storage.
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It took a scary flight, he said of the bus plunge.
Godstime Erheneden was in his apartment overlooking the busy road when he heard a crash and rushed outside. He was among the first to enter the bus.
When we went in, we saw the driver right away. He was dead. I carried a woman out on my shoulders, then a man, Erheneden told the local newspaper, Il Gazzettino.
The woman was screaming, ‘My daughter, my daughter, and I went back in. I saw this girl who must have been 2 years old. I have a son who is a year and 10 months old, and they are the same size. I felt like I was holding my son in my arms. It was terrible. I dont know if she survived. I thought she was alive but when the rescuers arrived, they took her away immediately, Erheneden said.
Brugnaro said he had read what Erhenden and his roommate did. Both were identified as long-time residents of Italy who work for the Fincantieri shipbuilding company. The mayor said he planned to track them down once the emergency phase had passed.
“They threw themselves into the fire to rescue these people. They are real heroes of our time,” he said.
Ciarn Giles, Sylvie Corbet and Tom Krisher of the Associated Press contributed to this report.