March 1, 2008 / 8:26 PM / 11 years ago

Guatemala bus crash death toll rises to 54

GUATEMALA CITY, March 1 (Reuters) - The death toll from a bus crash in Guatemala has risen to 54, police said on Saturday, making it one of the worst of the impoverished Central American country’s frequent road accidents.

The number of injured stood at 23 the day after the bus, which had seats for 50 people but was crammed with 77 passengers, lost control on a bend and skidded into a ravine some 160 feet (50 meters) deep, national police director Henry Lopez said.

"We have to confirm that there are 54 dead from this accident," Lopez told a news conference, after a group of survivors died in the hospital during the night.

Dozens of rescue workers labored through the night to free survivors from the wreckage, near the village of Chiquimulilla in southern Guatemala. The death toll was initially put at 37.

Excessive speed combined with the weight of the extra passengers likely caused the overloaded bus to swerve off the road as it sped around a bend, the government’s road accident investigations chief Raul Cermeno told reporters.

Some survivors told local media that the driver, who was killed in the crash, realized a few miles (kilometers) before the accident that the brakes had failed but decided to carry on.

In rural Guatemala poor peasants frequently travel long distances on overcrowded, rickety buses to work as day laborers on large agricultural plantations. Deadly accidents are common on the dangerous, badly maintained roads. (Reporting by Herbert Hernandez; Writing by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Eric Beech)

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