DHAKA // Many schools in south-eastern Bangladesh were closed yesterday as authorities and families mourned the deaths of 44 people - mostly schoolboys - when the truck they were riding from a football match crashed into a canal.
Police launched a manhunt for the driver, who fled immediately after yesterday's crash.
The victims' relatives were holding prayers at their homes and mosques. They were visited by two senior cabinet ministers and one of them promised jobs for the impoverished families.
A sobbing Nurul Islam Nahid, the education minister, told a crowd at a school ground: "The whole nation is shocked today, we have no word to express our sympathy. They were our children, nothing can condole the loss."
The government pledged initial financial help of 20,000 takas (Dh990) to each of the families, said the local police chief, Iftekhar Hasan.
President Zillur Rahman and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also sent their condolences.
Rescuers, joined by military troops and doctors from nearby towns, pulled out the vehicle yesterday evening from the small ditch filled with recent rains in Chittagong district, 216 kilometres south-east of the capital, Dhaka.
The cargo truck was hired to take about 60 people, mostly schoolchildren between the ages of 8 and 12, home after they watched a football tournament.
At least 12 children were being treated at hospitals, Sheikh Hasan said.
"According to several witnesses, the boys were singing and dancing on board the truck," Mr Hasan said. "The truck skidded off the muddy road and turned (over) as it plunged into the canal."
The cause of the crash was not clear, but news reports said the driver was talking on his mobile phone and lost control while trying to make room for a vehicle coming from the opposite direction.