World News

Peru Bans Buses From Road Where Bus Plunged, Killing 51

Posted January 3, 2018 9:07 p.m. EST

LIMA, Peru — Peru’s government on Wednesday banned buses from a notorious stretch of road where an intercity bus plunged off a cliff and onto a beach on Tuesday, killing 51 passengers in the deadliest traffic accident in Peru since 2013.

Even as emergency workers continued on Wednesday to retrieve bodies from the bus in Pasamayo, anger mounted over the government’s failure to find an alternative to a road so dangerous that for decades it has been called “the Devil’s curve.”

The road — a section of seaside highway 40 miles north of Lima, the capital — is often so foggy that drivers cannot see the vehicles in front of them. For 14 miles, it curves 52 times atop a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. In many parts, there is no safety rail.

The accident on Tuesday morning was not the first time the stretch of road has been the scene of fatalities, and two more people died there, in a separate accident, just hours later. Since 1990, at least 20 traffic accidents have occurred there, many of them involving the loss of life.

An alternative to the infamous road exists, built away from the cliffs. But its use has been restricted to small, private vehicles.

Passenger buses and cargo trucks have had no option but to use the Coil of Pasamayo, which is the formal name of the 10-mile stretch of road.

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski announced on Wednesday that he had instructed his minister of transportation and communications, Bruno Giuffra, to stop buses from using the hazardous road and to increase the capacity of the alternative route to accommodate buses.

“It’s very painful to us as a country to suffer an accident of this magnitude,” the president wrote on Twitter.

Inequality and poverty in Peru are high, meaning that those who rely on buses are often low-income Peruvians, while better-off people can afford to drive smaller vehicles, or share rides in them.

“We’ve been building roads for those who can afford cars, not for the people,” said Mariana Alegre, a transit advocate who leads the organization Lima Cómo Vamos.

For all its danger, the Coil of Pasamayo is an almost unavoidable part of life in Peru. It is part of the country’s main highway, the Pan-American Highway, which stretches along the entire western edge of the country. This particular stretch dates to the 19th century, when it was built as a railway.

Both the “Devil’s curve” and the alternative route are managed by a private conglomerate, Norvial, which has a contract to maintain the roads until 2027 and to collect the tolls.

Norvial did not respond to a request for comment about the condition of the roads.

On Facebook, the company said it regretted the accident and expressed condolences to families of victims.

Reports prepared by Norvial for the government show that the company has invested heavily in cleaning up sand that falls from the steep cliffs onto the road, but they do not mention efforts to make the road safer.

A 2011 report from Peru’s Ministry of Transportation and Communications noted that both Pasamayo roads were among the most heavily traveled stretches of highway in the country. The “Devil’s curve” ranked as the second-most transited road for buses; the alternative road was seventh among roads used by personal vehicles.

Lorenzo Orrego, who runs Sutran, the agency that regulates vehicular transportation, said speed was a factor in the accident on Tuesday as was a tractor-trailer that drove into the lane occupied by the bus.

Giuffra, the transportation minister, said that both vehicles were moving in excess of the speed limit of 60 kilometers per hour, or about 37 mph.

Orrego said any security precautions in the area would have been the responsibility of Norvial, not the government. But a unit within the ministry that oversees Norvial is said to be facing a restructuring in the wake of the accident, according to local news media reports.

According to statistics maintained by Luz Ambar, a transportation safety organization, eight to 10 Peruvians die each day from traffic accidents.

Kevin Villalobos Rojas, 27, who was returning home on the bus after spending New Year’s Day in the city of Huacho, was one of just a few survivors from the accident. Reached by phone, his brother Eric said that Villalobos was in intensive care at a hospital.

“The company hasn’t called us, it hasn’t come to the hospital,” Eric Villalobos said. “And the government hasn’t done anything either.”