World News

Thailand Bus Fire Kills 20 Migrant Workers From Myanmar

Posted March 30, 2018 9:24 a.m. EDT

HONG KONG — Twenty migrant workers from Myanmar were killed when their bus caught fire in northwestern Thailand early Friday, police said.

The workers were traveling to a factory district near Bangkok when their chartered bus was engulfed in flames around 1:30 a.m. in Tak province.

The cause of the fire was not yet known, said Col. Krissana Pattanacharoen, a Royal Thai Police spokesman. Authorities were planning to interview the driver, who survived the fire.

The bus was carrying 47 people, and 27 escaped, Krissana said. But 20 others were killed in the fire, which incinerated the double-decker bus and left it a charred shell on the roadside.

“We are trying to identify the bodies and also trying to contact the Myanmar Consulate in order to identify the bodies,” Krissana said. “They are Buddhists, so we’ve got to send them back to their hometown for religious ceremonies there.”

Kittasak Boonchan, an administrator of a rescue group in Tak province, said he arrived at the scene around 2:30 a.m., about 20 minutes after the first rescue team.

The burning bus was about 15 miles from the rescue team’s base, he said, delaying their response.

“When we got there, the flames were so strong,” Kittasak said. “People who couldn’t get out of the bus were writhing in pain in the flames.”

Most of the survivors had only minor injuries, but one person was badly burned and cut by a mirror, he said.

Before Thailand’s military government enacted a tough law on migrant workers last June, the country had as many as 3 million unregistered migrant workers, many from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. The new rules, which carried prison terms of up to five years for working without legal documents, led tens of thousands of workers to return home.

The workers who were killed Friday had passed the lengthy new registration process to work in the country, Thai news outlets reported.

Thailand’s roads are notoriously dangerous. It had the world’s highest rate of road traffic deaths, according to World Health Organization data from 2013, and in 2015 was found to have the second highest road fatality rate behind Libya.

Last week, at least 18 people were killed when a tour bus swerved across the median and slid off a road in Nakhon Ratchasima Province, in northeast Thailand.