Bus fire tragedy prompts protest

ABOUT 20 petitioners yesterday staged a protest outside the Shenzhen Government Office and demanded compensation for relatives who were injured in a bus accident last month when the city was hit by flooding.

Fourteen of the victims were still being treated at the Shenzhen Red Cross Hospital and at least three could die if they did not receive proper treatment soon, the victims' relatives said.

The accident happened in the early hours of the 27th of September, after a bus carrying about 20 passengers had stalled in floodwaters as high as two metres.

A fire broke out on the bus, fuelled by petrol from the tank, causing severe injuries to many of those trapped on board.

Relatives of those hurt gathered at the main gate of the government office yesterday morning and put up a banner which read ''Fighting for Justice for Victims of the September 27 Incident''.

They claimed that the Shenzhen Public Bus Company should be held responsible for the accident and was liable to pay them compensation as well as all the victims' medical expenses.

The petitioners were stopped by security guards and police officers who told them to calm down and put away their banner.

Two Hong Kong reporters were briefly detained for filming the incident.

Seven government officials including a Mr Su from the mayor's office received the petitioners for about half-an-hour.

According to Xu Zhi, a representative of the petitioners, they asked the Government to launch an investigation into the accident.

They also demanded that the victims be moved to better equipped hospitals and helped to gain compensation from the bus company.

Mr Xu said Mr Su had agreed to relay their grievances to the officials responsible and give them a reply today.

Wang Yiqing, one of the petitioners, said the bus company had refused to pay them compensation, claiming it had already paid 500,000 yuan (HK$670,000) to the Red Cross Hospital to cover medical expenses.

''They [the bus company] said they would not help the victims to change hospitals and we will have to pay our own expenses once we leave the Red Cross,'' Ms Wang said.

''But the Red Cross is so poorly equipped and some of the patients who were seriously burned have to sleep on makeshift beds set up in the corridor.'' Another petitioner, Qi Linyu, said: ''More than 20 people have been seriously injured. Not one government official or leading cadre has come to see us - not on the National Day or the Mid-Autumn Festival.'' Officials of the Shenzhen Public Bus Company were not available for comment yesterday.

A statement on September's accident prepared by the petitioners said that before the fire the driver deserted the route 206 bus to seek refugee from the downpour at a marshalling centre on Jiangshe Road.

He later returned and for an unknown reason steered the bus to a valley where it lost its ignition.

The passengers then found traces of petrol in the water and the bus driver confirmed to them that the petrol tank was leaking.

Shortly after midnight, a fire broke out in the bus. All but one of the passengers were hurt and some had 70 per cent burns.