By Anesta Henry
Scores of passengers, including secondary school children, were forced to break windows and clamber out of two Transport Board electric buses that crashed into each other on Tuesday morning at Lower Carlton, St James.
Some 61 riders were seen by Emergency Ambulance Service (EAS) paramedics led by Dr David Byer as a mass casualty incident was declared at the scene and an Incident Command was activated just after 9 a.m. No serious injuries were reported.
Of the 61 casualties, 19, including one of the bus drivers, were taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) by ambulance, with the first patient arriving at 10:30 a.m., said the hospital’s communications officer Shane Sealy.
He said 27 people were seen, treated and discharged at the scene, eight were referred from the scene to the area polyclinic, and seven sought private medical attention.
Visiting was suspended in the Accident and Emergency Department due to the mass casualty situation, said Sealy.
Acting Communications and Public Affairs Officer of the Barbados Police Service Sergeant Liesl Gabriel confirmed that the buses were travelling in opposite directions when, on reaching a section of the road, they collided.
“At this point, we are still carrying out our investigations as to how the accident occurred,” she said.
One male passenger told members of the media at the scene that he was on the bus headed towards Bridgetown when the driver began sounding the horn profusely as he approached the junction in the area.
Everything unravelled quickly, said the passenger, who expressed gratitude that there were no deaths.
“When the impact occurred, it was almost like an explosion,” he told reporters though declining to give his name.
“The glass shattered instantaneously, and that is what caused a lot of the injuries that people have, like cuts on their heads. There is a young lady who has one under her eye; some have cuts on their faces, and there is an elderly man who was thrown from his seat indicating issues with his ribs. I got some pain in my ribs and back as well. Honestly, it is just an unfortunate circumstance.”
He recalled that immediately after the collision, passengers were rushing to get off the bus, which he said started making strange noises.
“Everybody was trying to get off the bus; we thought it was going to explode. It started to make these funny sounds, and it started to smoke profusely,” he said. “Obviously, we know it’s an electric bus, and the first thought everybody had was that this bus is going to blow up. That is why you see there are so many broken windows. We couldn’t get the doors opened initially because the bus broke down, and everybody was like, ‘we want to get out of here because we don’t know what is going on’. We had to open the windows, and then we were able to get the doors opened slowly. We had to break the windows to get out.”
School children from four northern high schools, Daryll Jordan in St Lucy, Coleridge and Parry and Alexandra in St Peter and Frederick Smith in St James, were among the passengers.
“The school children started to panic right after impact,” the passenger said. “Instantaneous tears, and then after seeing the blood and the different cuts on a lot of them, they started to freak out and they were very panicky. Trying to get them out of the bus was very difficult. Some were quick on their feet and realised we had to break the windows but others were stuck in their seats and didn’t know how to move; they were petrified.”
Chief Executive Officer of the Transport Board Fabian Wharton, who visited the scene, said it was unfortunate that passengers were injured.
Responding to the passengers’ complaints that it was difficult to open the windows on the electric bus immediately after the accident, he said that in the event of emergencies, there was a hammer on the bus to be used to break the glass.
“There are also emergency door levers which you press for the doors to open. Yes, those things are in place and breaking the glass is part of the process of getting out,” Wharton said.
“On the bus, you would see the emergency signs with the levers and people are supposed to pull those. As we go along on this journey with these new buses, maybe we should do some more education as to what you do in these circumstances, maybe highlight the levers a little more.”