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39 killed when U.S.-bound migrant bus goes over cliff in Panama


At least 39 people were killed early Wednesday when a bus carrying 66 migrants from the Darién Gap went off a cliff in Panama, local authorities said. The crash underscored the perils of the increasingly common journey through Central America toward the United States.

The bus was transporting the migrants to a shelter in Chiriquí, a province in western Panama bordering Costa Rica, at about 4:40 a.m. when the driver missed the entrance to the shelter, turned around and lost control of the vehicle, said Samira Gozaine, Panama’s migration director.

All of the passengers were migrants who had paid for the private bus service to reach the shelter on their way north, Gozaine told The Washington Post. Some of the dead were children, she said.

Several other passengers are hospitalized with serious injuries. “We imagine that everyone on that bus has some type of injury,” Gozaine said.

The bus was driven by two Panamanians who were properly licensed, Gozaine said. At least one of the drivers was killed.

Authorities have not identified the nationalities of the migrants, and continue to investigate the crash. Limited cell service in the area has made communication difficult.

This is the first such accident involving migrants in at least a year, Gozaine said, even as record numbers of migrants have crossed the Darién, the 66-mile stretch of dense jungle and marsh that serves as a barrier between South from Central America, on their way to the United States.

Nearly 250,000 people traversed the gap into Panama in 2022, according to the Panamanian government, nearly double the number during the previous year. More than 150,000 of those were Venezuelans, double the number during the previous year.

The next-largest groups were Ecuadorans, Haitians and Cubans. About 16 percent were children and adolescents, according to the International Organization for Migration.

At least 36 people died in the Darién Gap last year, according to data collected by IOM’s Missing Migrants Project. But many deaths in the jungle are never reported and remains are never recovered, the agency said, making it difficult to know exactly how many people have perished on the journey.

Juan Pino, Panama’s security minister, said about 37,000 migrants have crossed into the country so far this year.

Panamaian President Laurentino Cortizo lamented the crash early Wednesday.

“It is with great sadness that I receive the news of the traffic accident in Gualaca, Chiriquí,” he tweeted. “This news is unfortunate for Panama and for the region. The National Government extends its condolences to the families of those killed in this accident, and reiterates its commitment to continue providing humanitarian aid and decent conditions to deal with irregular migration.”

*This story has not been edited by The Infallible staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.