CAIRO, Egypt – A tourist bus overturned several times on a highway lashed by heavy rain, killing six Australians and injuring at least 24 others, Egyptian and Australian officials said Wednesday.
The roof of the bus was sliced off in the accident, which occurred about 29 miles north of Cairo on Tuesday night as it was returning on a wet, poorly lit desert highway to the capital from the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.
The bus was one of two carrying 80 vacationing Australian police officers, emergency service workers and relatives from Victoria, Queensland, and the Northern Territory.
Ibrahim Hammam, a morgue official at the Um al-Masryeen Hospital in Cairo, said the six Australians killed included five men and one woman aged between 40 and 50 years.
A spokeswoman for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs in Canberra confirmed six Australians had died, while another 24 were injured, some seriously.
An official in the prosecutor's office had earlier said one of the dead was an 8-year-old boy, but officials of the tour company and the hospital said all the fatalities were adults.
An Egyptian security official said 25 Australians and the Egyptian bus driver were injured. The difference in injury tolls could not be immediately reconciled.
"It was just awful," said Melbourne nurse Barbara Kennedy, a passenger on the second bus who was one of several people who rushed to assist the injured.
"The first girl I came to ... had passed away and the next person, he also was dead," Kennedy told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.
"Everybody tried to help the injured people. We put blankets around those who were cold. We tried to get them out of the rain," Yang Albeit, a 65-year-old Canadian nuclear scientist who was on the second bus with his son, told The Associated Press.
The tour group had had "such a great day," Albeit said as he visited the injured at Dar al-Fouad hospital on the outskirts of Cairo, where most of the injured were taken. "It's very sad."
Among the injured was a Northern Territory policewoman from the second bus who was trying to help the victims when part of the crashed vehicle collapsed on her, said Bruce Wernham, Northern Territory's acting police commissioner. She was hospitalized with a dislocated hip and fractured pelvis, Wernham told the Australian Associated Press.
The Egyptian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was unauthorized to comment to the media, blamed the accident on bad weather.
However, Wernham said he had heard the bus swerved to avoid a car that was "dangerously overtaking." Egyptian officials did not confirm this.
Mohammed Moussa, a 35-year-old guide working for the Grand Tours company who was on the second bus, dismissed the car theory.
"It was because of the rain, not because of another vehicle. This is God's destiny," he told AP. "There was heavy rain and the driver lost control because he tried to brake too hard."
Stephen Seif, president of the Egyptian Federation of Victoria and the tour organizer, also blamed the rain.
Moussa said the group planned to continue its visit to Egypt and was expected to travel to the southern city of Aswan.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the ambassador in Egypt had gone to the scene to assist.
Road accidents are common in Egypt because of bad roads and poor enforcement of traffic laws. Police estimate road accidents kill about 6,000 people annually.