Miracle escape as truck hits school
SCHOOL was never supposed to break up like this.
The area immediately outside Cregmore National School in Co Galway resembled a scene from war-torn Beirut after a truck yesterday crashed into a car, jack-knifed, crashed through a wall and smashed into 11 cars. Many of the vehicles were write-offs.
Children from the infant classes were lined up at the school's front door at 1.40pm, ready to go to the collection area where the accident happened. Many of them witnessed the pile-up. Incredibly, just five people were injured -- none of them seriously.
The near-disaster developed when the truck collided with a car at the crossroads, just yards from the school.
As the truck driver tried desperately to bring his vehicle under control, it careered across the road and towards a low wall in front of a green strip outside the front of the school.
Local youth Darren Duggan was sitting against on wall when the truck came towards him.
"I didn't know what was happening. I just pulled my feet up on to the wall and over the other side to get away from the crash.
"The truck came through the wall right beside me and then started to hit the cars," said Darren (17).
"I saw one man sitting in a car with a baby and the truck hit it from the back and pushed it down the road about 20 yards. I was bloody lucky," Darren added.
Principal of the 222-pupil boys' and girls' school, Joe Kennelly, said he could hardly believe what he was seeing as the incident unfolded.
"Never in my life have I seen anything like this. It was carnage, like a scene from Beirut and yes, it was that bad," he said.
Mr Kennelly said the infant classes and their teachers were at the front of the school ready to go to the collection point where parents and grandparents were waiting to bring them home.
"The car seemed to come through the crossroads and the truck swerved but still hit it. Then it crashed through the wall and straight into all the cars. It was just incredible," he added.
"There were parents, grandparents, neighbours waiting to collect the young children and there must have been up to 25 cars in total parked there at the collection area."
In all, 75 infants aged four, five, and six were about to go to the collection area when the accident happened.
Mr Kennelly said it appeared somebody was "looking out for the children" as they were all kept safe.
"I saw it happening and ran out. I've been with the lifeboats for years, but I thought to myself 'if there are five to 10 fatalities here we will be lucky'.
"The teachers had to count the children as we thought some of them might be caught under the cars or between them.
"The whole scene was like one big concertina, with the cars all squashed together and a truck right in among them.
"I'm very relieved. We can repair the cars and rebuild the walls. It was an horrific few hours for the children, but all the teachers were marvellous -- they took the children away and kept them safe."
Mr Kennelly said that just a short time earlier, the entire school community had gathered in a classroom and said a simple prayer.
The principal is anxiously waiting for a decision by an Bord Pleanala in respect of an application to build a school hall and the prayer service was led by local parish priest, Fr Des Walshe.
"I'm not overly religious, but I certainly believe that prayer saved us here," Mr Kennelly said.
A garda, who was among the first on the scene, said: "It's hard to believe that nobody was killed here. Five minutes later and it would have been just a terrible disaster with the children around."
In all, five people were taken to hospital, including a parent, grandparent, a neighbour who was collecting a friend's child and two children.
All were said to be in a "very stable" condition last night.