Madagascar: 34 Christian Worshippers Traveling to Church Killed in Tragic Bus Accident

Aug 01, 2017 06:32 PM EDT

At least 34 Christian worshippers died when a bus carrying them to a church meeting plunged down a steep ravine in central Madagascar, police and hospital officials said Tuesday.

The Daily Mail reports that 12 badly burned bodies were counted at the site, 45 miles north of the capital Antananarivo, and 22 other deaths had been confirmed after the late-night crash.

The Christians on the tightly-packed bus were traveling from the central town of Soavinandriana to a church meeting in the north-western coastal port city of Mahajanga when the accident happened.

"The bus struggled to climb a road on a hill and fell down a ravine about 20 meters deep," police spokesman Herilalatiana Andrianarisaona told AFP.

"It caught fire after rolling several times." Photographs showed the white bus upside down and badly damaged, surrounded by burnt undergrowth.

Pastor Saholy, who organized the trip and witnessed the tragic accident, said: "We were 140 people on board of a big bus. We are members of an association of young Christians and we were on the road to attend a pilgrimage in Mahajanga on Wednesday, when the drama happened."

The island nation off the southeast coast of Africa has a population of about 24 million people. It is one of the world's most impoverished countries; according to The Guardian, the government remains fundamentally unstable and financially broke, and the economy was ranked the worst on the planet by Forbes magazine in 2011.

The country's roads are often poorly maintained, with overloaded bus and trucks frequently involved in deadly accidents. According to reports, it's common for trucks to carry passengers on the large island, as they are usually capable of maneuvering the island's unkept roads.

However, earlier this year, at least 47 people, including 10 children and a newly-wed couple, were killed when a truck carrying a wedding party and guests veered off the road and plunged into a river.

There were "a total of 47 deaths, including 10 children" and the newly-wedded couple.

At the time, police blamed the driver for carrying too many passengers on a truck that is only meant to transport goods.

"According to our hypothesis, the truck driver, cognizant of the offense he was committing, which was transporting too many passengers in a vehicle meant for carrying goods, drove fast to escape traffic police checks," Andrianatisaona said.

"The driver lost control of his vehicle after having negotiated a wrong turn and ended up in the Mananara river," he said.