24 Believed Killed In Evacuee Bus Fire, Explosion
Passengers Were Elderly Hurricane Evacuees
NBC News | September 23, 2005
Authorities said the bus apparently caught fire due to a mechanical problem, and that oxygen tanks then started exploding on gridlocked Interstate 45.
DALLAS -- A fire in a chartered bus filled with elderly Hurricane Rita evacuees, including some who used oxygen, has killed 24 people near Dallas Friday.
Dallas County Sheriff's Sgt. Don Peritz said deputies couldn't get everyone off the flaming bus. It carried about 45 people from a nursing home in Bellaire, an upscale enclave within Houston. They had been on the road since Thursday.
He said the bus left a nursing home in the Houston suburb of Bellaire Thursday, headed for facilities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
The fire caused a 17-mile backup on a freeway that was already heavily congested with evacuees from the Gulf Coast.
State officials said northbound traffic is being diverted off of Interstate 45 onto U.S. Highway 287 at Ennis, about 30 miles southeast of Dallas.
Peritz said permission was given to remove the charred hulk of the bus from the northbound lane with the bodies still on board, shrouded by tarps. The crowded interstate is a primary Hurricane Rita evacuation route.
The bus was reduced to a blackened, burned-out shell, surrounded by numerous police cars and ambulances.
Peritz said the driver and arriving deputies tried to rescue as many passengers from the bus as possible but couldn't save everybody.
Interstate 45 stretches more than 250 miles from Galveston through Houston to Dallas.
Nurse Saw Fire, Explosion
A nurse who was driving behind the bus said she saw it start to smoke, and then pull to the side of the road.
Tina Jones said, "I saw the smoke, and then there was an explosion."
She pulled over and helped treat minor injuries. And she said she saw at least six bodies.
In all, authorities say about 24 people died on the bus. They said the bus had caught fire because of a mechanical problem, and then oxygen tanks used by the elderly passengers started exploding.
After witnessing the horror, Jones said she'll "probably go home and have a good cry."
Forecasters say Hurricane Rita remains an extremely dangerous Category Four storm with 140-mph winds. It's turned to the right more than anticipated, meaning it may spare Houston and Galveston, Texas, a direct hit.