SHILLONG, June 15 - In one of the worst road mishaps in Meghalaya, at least 29 people were killed and nine injured when a bus skidded into a deep gorge near Sonapur, East Jaintia Hills district on Tuesday night.
The accident occurred in a remote and accident prone stretch of the National Highway 44, about 125 kms from here. The �night super bus� (AS 01 EC-7494), run by a private operator �Arihant Tour and Travels� and heading for Guwahati from Silchar, plunged into a 500-feet gorge at around 10 pm at a blind corner.
�We were able to retrieve seven bodies and nine injured out of the gorge today. Another 22 bodies are down at the gorge. We have called off the rescue work for the day as it is risky to continue, but we will again begin tomorrow,� East Jaintia Hills Superintendent of Police Spill Thamar told The Assam Tribune over phone.
The remote location and absence of electricity and mobile network, coupled with inclement weather have hampered the rescue operation. Personnel from the State police, home guards and Fire and Emergency Services were dispatched for the rescue operation. The rescue team also included personnel from the Border Security Force and local villagers.
�Tomorrow the bodies would be taken further down the gorge to the Lukha River, instead of pulling them up. We will take the bodies to the River Lukha and then ferry them downstream to Borosara village. From there we will take the bodies to Khleihriat Police Station,� Thamar added.
Regarding the reason behind the accident, the SP said, although the exact cause of the mishap has not yet been confirmed but �bad road condition, absence of barriers on the road, over speeding at a blind corner� could have all contributed to the mishap.
The National Highway 44 connects important towns and cities in the States of Assam, Tripura, Mizoram and Manipur. Despite the highway�s importance, it has remained neglected by the governments of Assam and Meghalaya over the years.
The highway is also treacherous due to frequent landslides during the monsoon season. The dense vegetation covering the gorges belies their actual depth � some gorges are close to 1,000-feet deep. It, moreover, has no road safety signs, barricades, road linings and emergency helpline facilities and therefore driving on it remains extremely unsafe, especially during the night.
Meanwhile, some of the injured were initially rushed to the Community Health Centre at Khleihriat, but were later referred to the Civil Hospital at Jowai in West Jaintia Hills district. The critically injured were also referred to NEIGRIHMS here.
Our Silchar Correspondent adds: Among those rescued from the spot included Sonu Singh, Pawan Mazumder, Jilet Kumar, Yuvraj Baniya, Hari Singh and Rajiv Deori.
A clerk from the Cachar DC office and two managers of the Dewan Tea Garden in Silchar are among those missing.