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CNN Today

School Bus Crash Stuns Small Town

Aired March 28, 2000 - 1:28 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Our other top story is a school bus crash along the Tennessee border. Two elementary school children are dead, three others are in critical condition. Their bus was hit by a freight train this morning. The crash occurred in Polk County, Georgia. That's about 30 miles east of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

CNN's Martin Savidge is there now with more -- Martin.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, the accident happened around 7:00 this morning in the small rural Georgia community of Tengga. The standard yellow school bus that was involved in this accident reportedly was crossing over the railroad tracks.

This is basically a railroad crossing located behind me here. It is not one protected by gates and lights, it is simply one that is posted with a railroad crossing sign.

Witnesses on board the train say the bus was moving, but that the train, a CSX freight train which was headed south, could do nothing to try to avoid the impact. The force of that collision with the school bus was so great that it actually sheered the cab of the school bus off of the bus's chassis and carried it and the passengers and the school bus driver some 50 yards in the direction that the train was heading.

Two of the children on board the school bus were pronounced dead on the scene, and the driver is in stable condition. Five other children were airlifted to an emergency medical center in nearby Chattanooga, Tennessee. Their conditions at this hour: Three of those students are in critical condition, and two of the students have now been upgraded from critical to serious condition.

We're told that this is the standard bus route that the bus was following this morning. It was early on in the pickup of children. That's why there was only a relatively small number of children that were on board. But again, the witnesses say the bus was moving as it crossed over the railroad crossing, but it was hit by the train. The people on the train say there was little they could do to avoid the impact.

Tengga here is a pretty small town, less than 1,000 people. Everybody here has heard about the accident. Most of them have been touched deeply by it. Emergency officials that were first on the scene say at one point the father of one of the children on board the bus came running up and freed his own daughter from the wreckage. She was pronounced dead on the scene -- Natalie.

ALLEN: And, Martin, has there ever been a move to try to get a crossing gate there?

SAVIDGE: Well, they -- we are told that there has not been a serious accident at this crossing here for quite some time. However, the sad irony is that now the fact a fatality has taken place at this crossing, under the law it is possible now for this community to appeal and receive -- or appeal for and receive a lighted -- some sort of lighted warning that would then be placed here at this railroad crossing. Of course it is after fact -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Sure. Martin Savidge at the scene of that school bus crash.

Thanks to you, Martin.

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