Bus carrying mostly Americans crashes, 10 dead



FAVERSHAM, England (AP)—A bus carrying American tourists to Canterbury Cathedral careened off a rain-slicked highway Wednesday, killing 10 people and injuring more than 30 when it plunged down an embankment.

Two sisters from Louisiana and Texas and the British coach driver were among those killed, although police did not immediately release any names.

The coach carrying 46 people clipped the back of a van on the M2 highway in Kent county in southeastern England, police said. It spun around, plunged through a crash barrier and landed on its side 20 feet down the embankment.

‘‘Clearly we don’t know what was in the driver’s mind, said Kent County Police Assistant Chief Constable Peter Hermitage. ‘‘I wish he was here to tell us.’‘

Trapped and injured passengers screamed as firefighters battled to cut them from the wreckage. Nearly all the passengers were taken by road or helicopter to nearby hospitals.

The highway, which has a 70 mph speed limit, was closed for 6^4 hours.

The accident happened at about 9:40 a.m., some two hours after the coach, operated by the British company Travellers International, left London with 42 Americans, two Canadians, the driver and a British guide on board.

The tourists were on a day trip to the 12th-century Canterbury Cathedral, seat of the Anglican Church, and to Leeds Castle.

The bus left the road near Faversham, about 50 miles southeast of the capital.

‘‘It was the most terrible thing I have ever seen in my life,’‘ said John Walraven, who lives near the accident site. ‘‘There were people on the coach and arms and legs sticking out everywhere. The back window was smashed and bodies had been thrown out.’‘

Five family members were among the casualties. Two sisters—Deborah Weimer, 34, of Lafayette, La., and Francis Hubbard, 52, of Houston—were killed and two other sisters and their 75-year-old mother were injured, said their brother, Tommy Becnel of Lafayette.

Dr. Susan Brooks, head of the emergency section at Kent and Canterbury Hospital in Canterbury, said two of the injured were in serious condition but neither was in danger of death.

‘‘The survivors are devastated, particularly those who have lost relatives,’‘ she said.

Officials from the U.S. Embassy went to the hospital. Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey and the British government sent condolences.

The accident is likely to fuel a controversy over whether seat belts should be compulsory in buses. Britain has been pressing for such a law in the European Community.

‘‘Now is not the time for judgment, now is the time for sorrow,’‘ said British Roads Minister Robert Key, who ordered an investigation.

The van driver, who was alone, kept control of his vehicle and pulled over, Hermitage said. He was given routine tests for alcohol and cleared.

Hundreds of thousands of commuters travel to London daily from towns and village in Kent. Traffic has increased in the county with the building of the Channel Tunnel from the Kent coast to France.