A bus travelling from Guwahati to Tripura capital Agartala fell 300 ft into a gorge in Meghalaya early Wednesday morning, killing 31 of the 58 people on board.
Officials fear the body count may go up because many of the survivors are badly injured.
The Guwahati-Agartala bus trip takes almost 24 hours and entails travel through treacherous hills of Meghalaya and northern Tripura.
The accident occurred at Tengsong village, some 200 km south of Guwahati, in the landslide-prone Sonapur area in Meghalaya’s Jaintia Hills district. “Villagers informed us about the accident around 6.30am. Of the 31, many were killed on the spot, while the others died at a community health centre at Khliehriat nearby,” Jaintia Hills district police chief MK Dkhar told HT.
Seven injured passengers were rushed to the Silchar Medical College Hospital in southern Assam, he added.
The police said they were investigating the cause of the accident, initially blamed on brake failure. The possibility of the driver having been under the influence of alcohol has not been ruled out.
“We are not sure if the driver of the privately-owned bus escaped or is among the dead or injured,” a police officer said from the accident site.
Search and rescue operations by police and fire brigade personnel were delayed by soggy and slippery conditions induced by incessant rainfall. Sonapur has been notorious for accidents, with at least 300 people having died in the last 12 years.
A few years ago, the BRO had built a concrete tunnel on the most vulnerable stretch of the highway to offset blockades caused by landslides.