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Flea Market of Idea

My close encounter with death

/ 04:04 AM February 17, 2020

I boarded a Florida bus last Thursday that was supposed to take me on a 520-kilometer trip from Manila to Alcala, Cagayan, in northeastern Luzon. I was with a group of 21 individuals consisting of visual artists and some of their families. We were on our way to attend an art festival sponsored by the Alcala municipal government where the artists were tapped to serve as speakers and workshop leaders before elementary, high school, and college students, as well as practicing artists in Cagayan Valley.

We left Manila at 9:15 p.m., and since I couldn’t sleep, I simply closed my eyes and let my mind meander as we traveled. At

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3 a.m., I was suddenly jolted from my stupor by a thunderous slamming sound coming from the front of the bus, followed by a very loud smash at its rear side. Then ensued a riot of violent screeching and banging sounds of metal, concrete, and wood crashing against different parts of the bus, and finally a loud bang at the front. When the bus stopped moving, horrified screams and wails could be heard from people outside the bus.

I later learned that our bus slammed against the cemented side of a mountain. The impact caused the bus to swing, making its rear right side slam against the same mountain, and then it rammed through several houses. When our bus finally hit an electric post, it was stopped on its track. If not for the post, our bus would have fallen into a 15-meter ravine and we would have suffered fatal injuries from the fall or we could have drowned. Dos por dos wooden parts and bamboo poles of the smashed houses pierced through the window behind me and the front windshield, but they thankfully missed hitting any passenger.

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Several members of our group were thrown out of their seats. We couldn’t get out of the bus because the only door was jammed. Someone smashed a window open, but we still couldn’t get out because the height was too high and there were broken glasses strewn on the ground. We shouted to the police and rescue teams that arrived to get their car close to the bus so we could step out of the bus. Absurdly, a policeman told us that it is “safer” for us to stay inside the bus while they nonchalantly waited and watched for the jammed door to be pried open. We told them that there was smoke and strange engine smell inside the bus plus a broken electric live wire near the bus, but they refused to heed our pleas. We were forced to stay inside the bus for 40 eternal minutes until the door was finally forced open.

Within those 40 agonizing minutes, a fire could have been sparked inside the bus and we could have been burned alive because of the sheer incompetence of the responding rescue and police teams. We all felt that the police and rescue teams vainly didn’t want their service cars to suffer dented roofs, that’s why they refused to heed our pleas.

The experience I went through shows the need for the Land Transportation Office to make it mandatory for long-trip buses to give passengers a briefing at the start of every trip on emergency exit protocols, similar to the briefings made by airline flight attendants. All buses must have visibly designated windows to be broken, with hammers attached nearby, in case the exit doors are jammed. Victory Liner buses have these features, but Florida buses are fire traps for recklessly not having them, especially because of their thick glass windows. Bus drivers should also be made to undergo alcohol breath tests before long trips. Rescue and police teams nationwide must have trainings emphasizing the urgent priority of evacuating passengers out of buses in case of high-impact collisions prone to fire and explosion.

Several members of our group, including me, sustained nonfatal wounds and contusions, but two had to be taken by ambulance to Manila because of a fractured bone and a dislocated metal brace implant. Some residents of the smashed houses also suffered nonfatal injuries.

It was a very close brush with death, and what a dangerous and terrifying way to remind me of how I should value and spend this precious and fragile life of mine.

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TAGS: close encounter with death, Flea Market of Idea, Joel Ruiz Butuyan, vehicular accident
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