Deadly Fire Breaks Out on Bus of Texas Evacuees

A bus loaded with evacuees from Hurricane Rita caught fire this morning near Dallas. The bus was carrying patients from a nursing home. At least 24 people were killed. Steve Inskeep talks with Capt. Jesse Garcia of the Dallas Fire Department.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And we'll finish this hour with an update on some of the news from Hurricane Rita. A bus loaded with evacuees caught fire this morning near Dallas, Texas. The bus was carrying patients from a nursing home. At least 24 people were killed. Captain Jesse Garcia of the Dallas Fire Department went to see the remains of that bus on Interstate 45.

Captain JESSE GARCIA (Fire Department): The staff members of the nursing home did their best to try to get all the nursing home patients out of the bus. This apparently came real fast, real quick with hardly anyone having enough time to jump in and help. Just the shell of the bus is left now. We don't even know exactly why this bus caught on fire so quick, but we believe that several of these nursing home patients had oxygen--they were on oxygen, and so we believe that they might have been carrying some extra oxygen inside the bus, and that's one of the reasons why it--the fire was so intense so quickly.

INSKEEP: Captain, did this happen in one of the traffic jams that we've seen so many images of this week?

Capt. GARCIA: That is correct. This area was an area where people coming from Houston were finally going to be able to break free from the large traffic jam. So unfortunately, these people now have to deal yet with another traffic jam here.

INSKEEP: Did that make it difficult for the fire department and other professional rescuers to get to the scene?

Capt. GARCIA: No. It did somewhat delay a response of ever--people were being real courteous. They were getting out of the way, and that did make a difference. We were able to get our ambulances here quick and our fire engines, and so we were able to immediately take control of the scene.

INSKEEP: Don't a lot of buses have an emergency exit?

Capt. GARCIA: I'm not exactly sure to the type of bus here, whether or not it had emergency exits. I doubt it would have helped. These were nursing home patients and each and everyone of them had some type of disability, so I don't think it would have made a difference here.

INSKEEP: Captain, anybody who listens to morning traffic reports knows that there are car fires all the time, but isn't it unusual for a vehicle to burst into flame this intensively?

Capt. GARCIA: Yes, it's highly unusual and probably the worst I've ever seen. And so many lives lost here just in one vehicle fire, really tragic. Hopefully we'll be able to find something that will let us know why this bus caught on fire so quickly.

INSKEEP: Can you give us an idea of how else the evacuation is affecting your area inland there around Dallas?

Capt. GARCIA: Basically, we have a lot of people with stalled cars, people that ran out of gas, their car broke down. These people are falling asleep and running into each other. We have several families with kids just walking the freeways. It's a very dangerous situation here on I-45. It's just a tremendous effort here by the state officials.

INSKEEP: Well, Captain Jesse Garcia, of the Dallas Fire Department, thanks very much for speaking with us.

Capt. GARCIA: Thank you.

INSKEEP: We also have news this morning from the city of New Orleans, where we're told that water has gone over a levee in at least one, perhaps more places near the city's Ninth Ward, and that area is flooding once again, although the Army Corps of Engineers insists that they expect the levee to actually hold even as water pours over the top. We'll bring you more as we learn more.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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