GENEVA: At least 28 Belgians, including 22 children, were killed in a horrific accident inside a tunnel in Switzerland, police said Wednesday. Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo said it was a "tragic day" for his country.
The accident took place around 9.15 p.m. Tuesday near Sierre town when 50 Belgian students, all around 12 years of age, and two drivers in the bus were returning from a ski tour in Switzerland, said police officer Christian Varone.
Twenty-four others were injured in the accident, Xinhua reported.
The school children were from the towns of Lommel and Heverlee in Belgium. BBC said the children had spent a week in Val d'Anniviers in the Swiss Alps.
The bus hit the left side of the tunnel, veered right and crashed into an emergency lane inside the tunnel.
The Belgian prime minister expressed his dismay over the tragedy. "It is a tragic day for the whole of Belgium," he said.
Belgian ambassador to Switzerland Jan Lunks said the whole of Belgium was shocked, and expressed gratitude to the timely rescue mission by the Swiss authorities.
Eight helicopters and 12 ambulances were mobilised to rush the injured to hospital.
Police has also set up a team to provide psychological assistance to the children who survived the accident.
Town prosecutor Oliver Elsig said the bus was in good condition when the accident occurred.
Swiss President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf sent her condolences to Belgium over the fatal accident.
Widmer-Schlumpf said Switzerland will make best efforts to help the injured and their families as well as the families of the victims.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy also sent his condolences to Belgium.
"I would, as president, present our condolences to our Belgian friends. Imagine these families, their pain ... There is no more appalling tragedies," Sarkozy said in an interview with local broadcaster Europe 1.
The Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he was shocked by the accident.
"For everyone who is involved, this is an unimaginable tragedy. For the children in the bus and their parents in the first place, now our thoughts are with them," Xinhua quoted Rutte as telling Dutch news agency ANP.
There were nine Dutch children in the bus, eight of whom living in Belgium and one living in the Netherlands. Their fate was still unknown.
Rutte hoped the names of the victims will be known as soon as possible. "That will put an end to the uncertainty that exists now in many families," he said.
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said there were three buses and only one was in an accident.