Rescuers were scrambling to find survivors in Spain on Sunday after a deadly bus crash on Christmas Eve when a bus fell off a bridge into a river, killing at least five people.
Authorities say the accident occurred around 21:30 GMT (22:30 CET) on a national road near the small town of Cotobade in Galicia, close to the border with Portugal.
There were eight or nine passengers on the bus at the time of the accident, as it traveled between the cities of Lugo and Vigo.
Two of the passengers, the driver and a female passenger, were rescued and taken to hospital.
The bodies of the first victims were discovered on Saturday evening, Christmas Eve, while the bodies of three more people were found late Sunday morning near the wreck of the bus, according to a Guardia Civil spokesman.
There may still be a person or two missing.
“The number is not yet known precisely” because the driver “has a doubt” about the number of people who were in the bus at the time of the accident, the Guardia Civil told reporters.
According to local authorities, the five people who died were a young Peruvian woman living in Galicia, where she worked for an elderly man, and four Spaniards living in the area.
Among the passengers on the bus were people who had come to visit relatives held in Monterroso prison in central Galicia on Christmas Eve, according to the regional newspaper La Voz de Galicia.
Heavy rain at the time of the crash
The driver of another vehicle first raised the alarm with rescue teams, when they saw that the safety rail had been destroyed on the bridge. Rescuers also received a call from the bus, which helped locate the wreckage.
The bus had fallen off the bridge and plunged into a ravine in a river below.
The local mayor described the incident as “a tragedy without words” and praised the professionalism of the rescue teams who arrived at the scene.
Rescue efforts were hampered by heavy rains during the night which caused a sharp rise in the water level of the Lerez River, where the bus went down.
Adverse weather conditions forced rescuers to suspend searches for several hours during the night. The search finally resumed at dawn with the help of some mountain rescue units, speleologists and a helicopter.
According to authorities, the cause of the crash is not yet known, although bad weather may have played a role. According to the Guardia Civil spokesman, the bus driver tested negative for alcohol and drugs.
“We still don’t know with certainty the causes (of the accident)” but “it is true that yesterday evening the weather conditions were very bad”, confirmed the president of the Galicia region, Alfonso Rueda.
On Twitter, the leader of the People’s Party (PP, right) Alberto Nuñez Feijoo, originally from Galicia, which he led for 13 years, sent his “condolences to the families of the victims” and thanked those involved in the “search for the disappeared”.