Colombia 'shattered' after 33 children die in bus fire

Colombia 'shattered' after 33 children die in bus fire
People lay flowers in honour of the children burned to death inside a school bus in Fundacion, department of Magdalena, Colombia, on May 19, 2014.

FUNDACIõN, Colombia - Colombians expressed horror and revulsion Monday after 33 young children burned to death when their overcrowded bus burst into flames and the driver fled the scene pursued by a bloodthirsty mob.

The driver turned himself over to police as families sought to hunt him down following Sunday's tragedy in which, according to a witness, the bus went up in flames as he refuelled it with a jerrycan.

The children, aged between three and 12, were returning from evangelical church services in the small northern town of Fundacion. The driver lost two of his own children in the fire.

Fundacion Mayor Luz Stella Duran said another 20 were hospitalized. Most of the injured have second- or third-degree burns.

Residents of the town had raced to join firefighters to extinguish the raging blaze, but it was too late.

"We wanted to get out a young girl who was holding out her arms by a window, but her skin was peeling off," witness Jose Guette, 48, told AFP.

"We couldn't do anything but hold our heads and watch the children burn."

'Never forget them' 

On Monday, bamboo crosses had been erected along the road where the bus burned, and glass fragments were still scattered on the ground. A woman was on her knees on the asphalt, wailing.

The mayor has declared three days of mourning and banned alcohol consumption.

President Juan Manuel Santos, who rushed to the scene, said an investigation was under way, while many denounced the accident as an example of Colombia's poor enforcement of road safety.

"I am shattered and the whole country is in mourning for the death of these children in this tragedy. We will never forget them," the president said.

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