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School bus fire has death toll

8:30 p.m. - Colombian authorities said Monday night that aggravated manslaughter charges would be filed against a bus driver over the deaths of 32 children from a fire in the overcrowded vehicle bringing them home from Sunday school.

Luz Estella Duran, mayor of the village of Fundacion where Sunday's tragedy took place, said witness accounts suggested the driver might have left the small bus running with the children on board when he got out to put gas in its tank from a portable container.

Twenty others were hospitalized, with about half in a delicate state, Duran said.

President Juan Manuel Santos interrupted a busy final stretch of campaigning ahead of the May 25 elections and travelled Sunday night to the town near the Caribbean coast to pay his respects to the mostly poor families of the victims. He called for a thorough investigation to prevent more such tragedies and declared a national day of mourning.

"We are with you. The entire country is with you," Santos said.


An overcrowded bus carrying young people home from a church service caught fire on a street in a northern city Sunday and at least 32 children were killed, authorities said.

The regional police chief, Col. Adan Leon, said 18 people, including some adults, had been found alive at the disaster in the city of Fundacion, which is about 750 kilometres (465 miles) north of Bogota. He said information was not complete and he warned that the death toll could rise.

Leon said most of the estimated 50 people on the bus were younger than 14. "That adds to the tragedy," he said.

Local officials said the bus was rated to carry only 38 passengers and an investigation was underway. Mayor Luz Estella Duran told RCN television news that investigators had not yet determined what caused the fire.

Officials said the people on the bus were returning from an event at an evangelical Christian church.

President Juan Manuel Santos, who was attending campaign events in Bogota a week before Colombia's presidential election, announced that he would travel to Fundacion.

 
The Canadian Press

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