Tributes have poured in for 15 passengers who died on the spot in yesterday's road accident along Kigali-Kagitumba high-way in Kizuguro, Gatsibo District. 24 others were injured.
The early morning accident involved a Coaster minibus belonging to Excel Travel Agency that was heading to Kigali from Nyagatare which collided with a commuter omnibus enroute from Kayonza to Nyagatare.
The critically injured were airlifted in a chopper to Kigali for emergency treatment.
"Security organs and medical services rushed to the scene and 12 seriously injured were airlifted to Rwanda Military Hospital - Kanombe, CHUK [University Teaching Hospital Kigali], and King Faisal Hospital -Kigali for intensive medical care," Police said in a statement.
"Preliminary investigations indicate that the accident was caused by speeding and the driver of the van, identified as Sylvian Nsabimana, was at the time speaking on phone when he lost control, ramming into the omnibus coming from the opposite direction".
Local residents said the accident occurred at one of the most notorious 'blind spots' on the highway.
In Parliament, lawmakers before the afternoon session paid their tributes, with a minute's silence in honour of the victims.
The victims included four workers attached to Gatsibo District, the drivers of the two vehicles, and one Fidele Turatsinze, an employee of Inyange Industries who had got married just a fortnight ago. Turatsinze's wife, Phiona Murora, was on the same bus and sustained critical injuries. By press time, she had reportedly started to recover her consciousness. The newlyweds were on their way from their new home in Nyagatare.
Also among the dead were two employees of Kabarore health centre, whose names had not been established by press time; Chantal Benegusenga, in charge of Gitoke Health Centre, and the District Agriculture Officer, Jean Claude Butera.
"It's just horrifying, we are all in shock," a relative to the late Turatsinze told The New Times last evening, as the family gathered in Kabeza in Kigali for a vigil.
At Parliament, Jeanne d'Arc Uwimanimpaye, Deputy Speaker in charge of Legislation, who hails from Gatsibo, said it was a difficult moment for parents in the area.
The Mayor of the District, Ambrose Ruboneza, told The New Times that the district had suffered a great loss.
"It's a very unfortunate incident... we are still struggling to come to terms with what happened. We lost some of the most dedicated staff members, you can imagine. It is a sad situation... a chaotic one, where the injured are still in intensive care units at various hospitals," he said.
Ruboneza complained that the two vehicles were being driven at very high speed, which he said was the cause of the accident.
The mayor expressed condolences to bereaved families across the villages, assuring them of moral support.
"I think it's high time tough measures are taken against such drivers... the two vehicles were driving at break-neck speed. Any obstacle, be it a dog as has been claimed or any other thing, couldn't be avoided. We can't leave our people to live at the mercy of irresponsible drivers," said Ruboneza.
At Kiziguro Hospital, relatives of the victims could still be seen around, pacing up and down as they struggled to come to terms with the tragedy.
"I was only told this morning by my friend that my father had died in the accident. I need to call my other relatives to see how to go about this tragedy," said one young man we could only identify as Musana.
Condolence messages began pouring in on social media moments after news of the tragic accident spread.
On his Twitter account, Prime Minister Dr Pierre-Damien Habumuremyi said the government "sends its condolences to families that lost theirs in today's accident on Kiziguro road, Gatsibo. Injured are being treated well."
A civil engineering graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, Patricie Uwase, said: "Too bad that such an accident could be due to negligence... may the souls of those who perished in that tragedy rest in peace!".
People who personally knew the victims of the accident are also grief-stricken. Speaking to The New Times on phone, a distraught Jeanine Mukarurangwa, a long time friend and housemate of Diane Uwimbabazi, one of the victims, was at a loss for words. The late Uwimbabazi "was my best friend and confidant," Mukarurangwa said.
The two had lived together, for long, before her friend's untimely death. The deceased, a finance graduate from the University of Rwanda (UR), completed her studies last year and, and was employed by the Bank of Kigali (BK) as a teller in its Nyagatare branch.
Mukarurangwa said: "What can I really say about her? It is very difficult. She was my best friend. A caring, intelligent, and very responsible person," lamented mukarurangwa.
"I will never forget the day, at her graduation party, when she saw all of us friends gathered and then started telling us her life's story, and her education journey. And how seeing us all present filled her with hope as it was a sign that she had good friends. She was an orphan."
Additional reporting by Eugene Kwibuka in Parliament