COTTONWOOD, Minn. – A school bus and several other vehicles crashed in southwestern Minnesota Tuesday, killing four students and forcing the first-arriving motorists to rush some of the injured to nearby hospitals.
The bus was hit by a van around 3:25 p.m. on a highway north of Cottonwood. The bus then hit a pickup and tipped on its side, State Patrol Lt. Mark Peterson said. At least 14 people were hurt.
Rescue squads and ambulances from many nearby cities arrived at the crash site. The Marshall Independent reported that the first motorists on the scene were asked to take some children to the hospital.
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"I parked my car and called 911, and ran to the school bus and the driver was handing kids out the door as fast as I could take them," Karen Mahlum told the newspaper.
Other motorists also stopped and took kids from the driver. "You just wanted to make sure it was safe," she said. "They were screaming and screaming on the bus. There were so many kids."
Pictures from the scene showed the school bus lying on its side on the hood and cab of a pickup truck.
The bus was on its regular route, carrying children from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Initial reports said the bus was carrying 40 people, but it actually carried 28 students and a driver, Minnesota Public Safety spokeswoman Christine Krueger said.
Parents were asked to gather at Lakeview School to await word on their children.
Of the 11 victims taken to Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center, two were in critical condition while one had already been treated and released, spokeswoman Deann Holland said.
Others were being treated for back and neck injuries, lacerations, bumps and bruises, she said.
Two of the victims were taken by ambulance to Granite Falls Hospital, which is about 15 miles north of the accident scene. Hospital CEO George Gerlach said one was 11 years old and the other 14.
"They were treated and stabilized in our ER," Gerlach said. Neither had life-threatening injuries, but had fractures that required a higher level of care than could be provided in Granite Falls, he said.
They were being taken, one by helicopter and the other by ambulance, to Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D., to undergo orthopedic surgery, Gerlach said.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty issued a statement calling it "a sad night for Minnesota."
"It is especially heartbreaking when young lives are lost," he said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who were killed or injured in this tragic accident."
The victims weren't immediately identified, and their ages weren't immediately given.
News of the crash swept through Cottonwood, a small town of about 1,000 people about 121 miles southwest of Minneapolis. About 40 people attended an evening press briefing at Swan Lake Lutheran Church.
When Fire Chief Dale Louwagie was asked what the community could do, he said simply, "Pray."
Classes were canceled Wednesday at Lakeview, which serves about 585 students in Cottonwood and Wood Lake, and plans were made to have grief counselors and clergy available to students, a school official said.