DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Many schools in southeastern Bangladesh closed Tuesday as people mourned 44 mostly schoolboys who died when a truck taking them home from a soccer match crashed into a canal.
The government asked all schools across the country to formally mourn the victims Wednesday.
Students, teachers and officials were asked to wear black badges as a symbol of mourning and special prayers will be held at all schools, the Education Ministry statement said.
The victims' relatives held prayers at their homes and mosques. Two senior Cabinet ministers visited them, and one promised jobs for the impoverished families.
"The whole nation is shocked today, we have no word to express our sympathy," a sobbing Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid told a crowd at a school ground. "They were our children, nothing can condole the loss."
The government pledged initial financial help of 20,000 takas ($267) to each of the families, local police chief Iftekhar Hasan told The Associated Press by phone.
President Zillur Rahman and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also sent their condolences.
The driver of the cargo truck carrying the boys fled immediately after Monday's crash, and police are searching for him to arrest him.
Police are recording statements from survivors about how the crash happened, Hasan said. News reports said the driver was talking on his cellphone and lost control while trying to give room for a vehicle coming from the opposite direction.
Rescuers, joined by military troops and doctors from nearby towns, pulled out the vehicle Monday evening from the small ditch that had been filled with recent rains in Chittagong district, 136 miles (216 kilometers) southeast of the capital, Dhaka.
The cargo truck was hired to take about 60 people, mostly boys between ages 8 and 12, home from the soccer tournament, a common practice in Bangladesh.
At least 12 children were being treated at hospitals, Hasan said. Of the fatalities, one was an adult and three were older teenagers.
Road accidents are common in Bangladesh due to reckless driving, lax traffic rules and poor road conditions. An independent research group says about 12,000 Bangladeshis die each year in such accidents.