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Bus plunges off a bridge in South Africa, killing 45 people. An 8-year-old is the only survivor

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — A bus carrying worshippers on a long-distance trip from Botswana to an Easter weekend church gathering in South Africa plunged off a bridge on a mountain pass Thursday and burst into flames as it hit the rocky ground below, killing at least 45 people, authorities said. The only survivor was an 8-year-old child who was receiving medical attention for serious injuries.

The Limpopo provincial government said the bus veered off the Mmamatlakala bridge in northern South Africa and plunged 50 meters (164 feet) into a ravine before busting into flames.

Search operations were ongoing, the provincial government said, but many bodies were burned beyond recognition and trapped inside the vehicle, while others had been thrown from the bus.

The crash happened near the town of Mokopane, which is about 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of the South African capital, Pretoria.

Hours after the crash, smoke seeped from the mangled, burned wreck underneath the concrete bridge. Authorities said it appeared that the driver lost control and the bus ploughed into the barriers along the side of the bridge and then over the edge. The driver was one of the dead.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the victims appeared to be all from Botswana and had been on their way to the town of Moria in Limpopo for a popular Easter weekend pilgrimage that attracts hundreds of thousands of worshippers from South Africa and neighboring countries who follow the Zion Christian Church.

Ramaphosa had phoned Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi to offer his condolences and said the South African government would do all it can to help, according to a statement from Ramaphosa’s office.

Provincial authorities said the bus had a Botswana license plate.

South African Minister of Transport Sindisiwe Chikunga was in Limpopo province for a road safety campaign and changed plans to visit the crash scene after hearing the “devastating news,” the national Department of Transport said. She said there was an investigation underway into the cause of the crash and offered her condolences to the families of the victims.

The South African government often warns motorists to be cautious during the Easter holidays, which is a particularly busy and dangerous time for road travel. More than 200 people died in road crashes during the Easter weekend last year.

Just a day before the bus crash, the South African government called on people to be extra careful on Thursday and Friday because of the expected high volumes traveling by road to Moria.

The Zion Christian Church has its headquarters in Moria and this year is the first time its Easter pilgrimage is set to go ahead since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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AP Africa news: https://apnews.com/hub/africa

By GERALD IMRAY
Associated Press

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