BANGKOK — A fire on a double-decker bus carrying migrant workers killed 20 people early Friday, a week after 18 people died in another bus accident that showed the continuing dangers of Thailand’s roads.
The fire was reported to police around 1:30 a.m. in Tak province in western Thailand along the border with Myanmar. The bus was heading to a factory in an industrial zone near Bangkok. Police and a survivor said the workers were from Myanmar.
Police Lt. Raewat Aiemtak said 27 people managed to escape the blazing vehicle, with one of them severely burned.
The cause of the fire wasn’t immediately known, but Raewat said the driver reported the fire started in the middle of the bus and spread quickly. People in the front managed to escape but those in the back of the vehicle were trapped.
A survivor, Pa Pa Hlaing, described the accident by phone to The Associated Press. She said some passengers had smelled something burning, but went back to sleep because they assumed it was smoke from outside.
“When we were asleep, some people from the back of the bus started shouting and screaming ‘fire, fire’ and as we awoke, the smoke was already filling the bus,” said the 19-year-old from Myanmar. “We couldn’t see anything or breathe. We just tried to get out of the bus as soon as possible. We were just rushing toward the bus door. I don’t even remember how I actually got out of that bus. There were bruises all over my legs as I was just randomly running around. Then, three minutes right after we got out of the bus, the flames just swallowed the bus.”
Scared that the bus might explode, those who escaped ran as far from it as they could, she said. Police arrived 15 or 20 minutes later, she estimated, but firefighters took longer, so no one was able to do anything to help those still inside.
“All of our clothes were gone on the bus. Some people’s passports were gone too,” said Pa Pa Hlaing, who was in a police station in Tak on Friday afternoon. She said those who had lost their passports would be taken back to a Myanmar border town to get new documents, while those who still had them would go ahead to Bangkok as planned.
Pa Pa Hlaing, who said the passengers had been headed to work at a factory owned by Tomy (Thailand), a Japanese maker of plastic toys, were told “that we would not need to work for a while and we could stay. They will pay us for our clothes and things we need there.”
Most of the survivors had minor injuries but two were hospitalized, said Moe Aung Khine, who works in the office of the labor attache of the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok. He said his office was trying to inform the families of the victims and make funeral arrangements, as well as negotiate for compensation for the victims.
Thailand has the second-highest rate of traffic fatalities in the world after Libya, according to World Health Organization statistics. The WHO estimates a rate of 36.2 per 100,000 population. By comparison , the rate in the United Kingdom, with a comparable population, is 2.9 per 100,000, and in the United States it is 10.6 per 100,000.
Thailand’s traffic fatalities are highly skewed toward riders on motorized 2- or- 3 wheeled vehicles, who account for 73 percent of the total. Drivers and passengers of buses account for less than 1 percent.
However, a chartered tour bus on March 21 lost control on a downhill curve in Thailand’s northeast and slid off the road, killing 18 people and injuring 33. A day later, a bus on a school trip in the central province of Ayutthaya skidded in the rain and flipped over, injuring 39 people.