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Guatemala highway accident leaves at least 18 dead

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Scene in western Guatemala on night of March 27, 2019 after a truck plowed into a crowd of people on a highway who were inspecting the body of someone killed in an earlier accident Reuters

Guatemala City — A large truck slammed into a crowd gathered on a dark highway in western Guatemala Wednesday night, killing at least 18 people and possibly many more. Bodies were left scattered on the roadway, and officials initially said more than 30 people had been killed.

Local fire department spokesman Cecilio Chacaj said people had apparently gathered on the highway to inspect a person who had been killed in a separate accident when the semi-trailer plowed into them. Chacaj later told a Guatemalan radio network and French news agency AFP that 18 deaths were confirmed, but that multiple people were being treated for serious injuries. Most Guatemalan newspapers, and even the emergency services' own Twitter page, were still reporting at least 30 dead hours later.

Chacaj said that confusion during the early response to the accident had led his department to erroneously count the casualties.

"With the confusion, people initially said 30, even more, dead, but once we cordoned off the area we were able to count the bodies properly," Chacaj said.

The accident took place near the municipality of Nahula in Solola province, he said. Guatemala's national fire and rescue service tweeted a photo from the scene, showing at least 10 victims' bodies covered with blankets lined up on the road.

"It seems that the semi-trailer did not notice the number of the people on the roadway and ran them over," said Chacaj.

A video circulating on social media showed bodies strewn on the roadway while several people cried and shouted for help.

President Jimmy Morales tweeted his condolences over the tragedy and said his government would coordinate aid to the families of the victims.

According to Reuters, it was one of Guatemala's worst traffic accidents in recent years. At least 43 people died and dozens were hurt when a bus went off a cliff in rural Guatemala in 2013.