AL-MUKALLA: At least 11 schoolchildren were killed and 23 others were injured on Saturday after their packed vehicle crashed off a hilly road in Yemen’s Dhamar province, south of the capital Sanaa, the second fatal road crash in a day.
The incidents have reignited demands for highways to be opened, repaired and cleared of landmines.
A local man told Arab News by phone that 34 school children were returning home from their school in a remote region of Wusab Al-Ali District on Saturday when their Toyota off-road vehicle went down a cliff, killing 11 and injuring 23, 13 of whom were critically injured.
“The students live in a rural village with few transportation options. As a consequence, some of them were crammed inside the car, while others hung from the back or the top in an attempt to reach home as soon as possible,” the man, who was collecting funds to treat the injured, said on condition of anonymity.
“Students who were hanging outside the vehicle escaped when the car flung them down the cliff, while others who were inside were trapped and died.”
Images on social media showed severely injured youngsters on hospital beds and others receiving treatment in hospital hallways and emergency rooms.
The remains of the deceased were wrapped in blankets and laid on the ground.
Locals also said a driver was killed, and four members of his family, including two children, were injured on Friday when their cab plummeted down a cliff in the same district.
Despite criticizing the driver of the truck for overloading his vehicle with students, many demanded that roads be repaired and others that had been blocked for the past eight years be reopened.
“Will these deaths and injuries inspire people to find ways to reduce the number of traffic accidents in Wusab and Yemen as a whole?” Mansour Taleb, a Sanaa resident, said on Facebook.
As fighting erupted in the early days of the Houthi military advance after their seizure of Sanaa in late 2014, the key routes connecting major cities were cut off.
The Houthis blocked major highways leading into and out of Taiz, Yemen’s third most populous city, essentially besieging the densely populated area and forcing residents to use hazardous, unpaved and rocky paths while leaving or entering the city.
The Houthis also extensively laid explosives on major and minor highways around the country to prevent government troops from entering their regions.
The Houthis have constantly blamed the “blockade” for failing to fix roads in Sanaa and other Yemeni cities under their control, despite collecting billions of Yemeni riyals from taxes and other sources of revenue.
Because of years of neglect, the roads in government-controlled regions are as terrible as those in Houthi-controlled districts.
The Yemeni government blames the lack of road repairs on the conflict, the Houthis and limited financial resources.
Opening roads in besieged Taiz and other Yemeni provinces is one of the unimplemented requirements of the UN-brokered truce.
Yemeni drivers and citizens have complained that the shutdown of major roadways, Houthi landmines and rough roads have made travel between Yemeni cities or to neighboring countries much more hazardous and time-consuming.
A Yemeni driver from Sanaa heading to Saudi Arabia through the Wadea border crossing told Arab News that he was forced to drive across a desert and a mined route in Jouf with his family since the major road connecting Sanaa to other provinces through Marib is blocked.
“I paid SR1,000 ($266) to a driver with extensive knowledge of the desert route to transport my vehicle from Sanaa to Wadea. This route is a half-day shorter than the alternative route via Aden,” he said as he drove his white Toyota SUV into Saudi Arabia.
In mid-January, a Yemeni family of nine barely averted death when their car passed over a landmine in the Jouf desert, causing an explosion that injured them all.
The internationally recognized government’s Ministry of Interior recorded over the last year 2,692 traffic accidents that resulted in 430 fatalities and 1,960 injuries inside its control areas.
The Houthi Ministry of Interior said on Sunday that 59 people were killed or injured in traffic accidents in Sanaa and other regions under their control on Saturday alone.