BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — At least 43 police officers were killed Monday when a bus in a convoy in northern Argentina blew a tire and veered off the side of a bridge, falling at about 65 feet (20 meters) in an accident that brought the sad state of the South American nation’s roads into focus.
The bus was one of three carrying police near Salta, a city about 932 miles (1,500 kilometers) north of Buenos Aires. The National Gendarmerie officers, a special police force typically charged with patrolling frontier regions, were on their way to Jujuy, a region in northern Argentina that borders Bolivia.
Security Minister Patricia Bullrich, who toured the scene, told reporters that an initial investigation found that the right tire of the bus ruptured.
“This is a tragedy. We are going to work to make sure gendarmes are better equipped,” Bullrich said.
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Local television images showed rescue crews working around the overturned bus, which authorities said was carrying around 60 people.
Gustavo Diaz, head of a group of volunteer firefighters in the area, told Argentine state agency Telam that 20 police were injured and were being treated in area hospitals. Authorities also warned the death toll could rise.
Roads in Argentina, a large country with a land mass about four times the U.S. state of Texas, are poorly maintained in many rural areas.
The crash comes as President Mauricio Macri begins his first full week in office. He issued a statement offering condolences to the families of the victims.
“It’s for this reason that we need to improve the roads so that this doesn’t keep happening,” the statement read.
Still, Juan Manuel Urtubey, the governor of Salta, said that this accident wasn’t caused by the poor state of Route 34, which some locally call the “highway of death” for the high number of accidents that happen on it.
“There are problems, but not on that part of the road” where the crash happened, he said, adding that the tire appeared to be the cause.
In 2012, a dozen gendarmes were killed in accident in the southern province of Chubut when their bus collided with a truck.