Six people have died after a bus fell off a bridge into a surging river in north-western Spain late on Christmas Eve.
Two survivors – the driver of the bus and a female passenger – were rescued from the Lérez River in Galicia and taken to hospitals, authorities said on Sunday. Police said the driver tested negative for alcohol and drugs.
The first call to emergency services came from a passing motorist who noticed that part of the protective railing along the highway between the cities of Lugo and Vigo had been destroyed. Amid the darkness and pounding rain, the caller was unable to spot any vehicles in the river – about 40 metres below the bridge – but said the damage to the railing appeared to be recent.
Soon after, a call came in from inside the vehicle that had skidded off the road, during which an occupant told emergency services that the bus had plunged into the river and was “filling up with water”, El País reported.
Rescuers rushed to the scene, battling heavy rains and strong currents to reach the bus. The search was suspended for hours after the river breached its overflow threshold in the early hours of the morning.
On Sunday, the leader of the region of Galicia, Alfonso Rueda, told reporters that the search and rescue efforts had been helped by a break in the rain. “It is always awful to have to talk about an accident like this, but at this time of year, it is even more horrifying,” he said.
It is believed that eight people, including the driver, were on the bus. Stops along the route included a local penitentiary, and several of the passengers were reportedly returning home late on Saturday after visiting loved ones who are incarcerated.