At least 36 people, including 10 women, were killed when a state roadways bus fell into the Ghogra canal breaking the railing of a bridge in Murshidabad district on Monday, the police said.
The accident occurred at Balirghat under the Daulatabad police station area around 6 am when the North Bengal State Transport Corporation bus was going from Shikarpur in Nadia district to Malda, they said.
The incident triggered protests, with locals alleging delay in arrival of police and attacking the force. They also torched a police vehicle.
Locals also damaged a fire tender when it reached the spot to douse the blaze in the police vehicle. Police used batons to disperse the mob.
According to official sources, it took eight hours to locate and lift the ill-fated bus out of the canal using five hydraulic cranes.
State Transport Minister Suvendu Adhikari said 32 bodies were recovered from the bus after it was lifted out of the water.
Earlier, two bodies, including that of a woman, were found floating in the canal, while two others died at a hospital, the police said.
Adhikari said till evening, 25 bodies were identified and search operation was underway to find out if more bodies were trapped inside the vehicle.
The cause of the accident was not known yet.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who rushed to the accident site told reporters, "The bus driver might have been unmindful. There was fog also."
Adhikari said the chief minister will stay back in Baharampur to oversee the search and rescue operation.
Immediately after the bus fell into the canal, local boatmen rescued a few people, but most of the passengers could not come out of the vehicle.
According to sources, the NDRF joined state disaster management personnel in the rescue operation.
Deep-water divers were also deployed, they said, adding a control room was opened in the Murshidabad district to give information about the accident.
The district magistrate, senior police officers, including the SP are at the spot to monitor the rescue operation.
Locals claimed that around 60 people were in the bus.
There was, however, no official confirmation on the number of passengers.
The chief minister announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh each to the family of those killed in the accident, while Rs 1 lakh would be given to those seriously injured.
Rs 50,000 would be given to the other injured people, Banerjee said.
Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi expressed sorrow over the loss of lives in the accident and conveyed his condolence to the bereaved families.
IMAGE: Rescuers pulling out the ill-fated public bus which fell into the Bhairab river in Murshidabad district on Monday. Photograph: PTI Photo