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September 16, 2011

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A cooling breeze, then disaster

BLOODSTAINS, shattered glass and deep gouges on the highway marked the spot where 11 young lives were lost.

Before the bus journey that ended in tragedy, 17-year-old Liu Jiaoxia, a Gansu Province native, had called her sister Liu Xuexia to complain.

"I must grab a seat on the front row of the bus so I can turn the windows open. The poor bus without air-conditioning almost suffocated me," the 17-year-old said.

So when Liu finished her shift on a computer assembly line at a factory in the Waigaoqiao Free Trade Zone, she was among the first to jump on the bus on Wednesday night. She grabbed a front seat, opened the window wide, and fell asleep in the breeze.

Liu was not the only worker desperate to avoid the stuffy air in the bus which lacked air-conditioning. Many of her colleagues did the same, falling asleep with the windows opened wide.

The open windows were to have a devastating effect on what happened next. When the bus hit the rear of a vehicle which suddenly cut into its path, it lost control and turned over onto the railings at the side of the highway. Liu was one of a number of passengers who fell out.

She survived, suffering a ruptured spleen. Others were not so lucky. "The driver drove the bus so fast that it crushed hard into the railings," Liu told her sister later.

Li Chunyan, 17, who was among the 13 injured, said: "We were sleeping in the bus after 12 hours' hard work when the bus suddenly swerved, crashed into something, and turned over. Then my world blacked out." She suffered only slight injuries to arms because she said she held onto her seat tightly when the accident happened.

Most of the 23 passengers on the bus were sleeping when the accident happened and had no chance to hold on.

Some of those who fell through the open windows were crushed by the bus.

A phone call woke Li Na at 9:30pm on Wednesday. "Save me, sister," were the only words before the call abruptly ended. Li realized it was her brother Li Chunyu, a 17-year-old worker from Henan Province.

The young man had dialled his sister, but couldn't finish telling her what had happened before blacking out in the intensive care unit at the Pudong New Area People's Hospital.

Li suffered several fractures to his leg and his face was badly scarred.

"My brother just started working in August at the factory," his sister said.

The workers were all non-local vocational school students sent to Shanghai by labor agent companies to work for Inventec (Shanghai) Corp.

Li Ziqiang, who was not on the bus, said they were paid a basic salary of 1,300 yuan per month so they had to work overtime to earn a bonus.

However, an Inventec official surnamed Chen said none of the workers on the bus had been working overtime.

"Our employees work eight hours a day and those on the bus were not on overtime," Chen said yesterday.


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