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NOUMÉA, New Caledonia (April 23, 2001 - Oceania Flash/SPC)---Two people, including an eleven-year-old girl, died and another 22 passengers were injured Saturday when the bus in which they were riding crashed in the early hours of the morning, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reports.

All 43 passengers were from Vanuatu. Four were critically injured.

They were on their way to attend a custom ceremony further north on the West Coast of New Caledonia's main island when the bus missed a turn and left the road near Bourail (about 120 kilometers/72 miles north of Nouméa).

Other passengers, although unhurt, were described as being in a state of shock after the tragic occurred.

Apart from the 11-year-old victim, a 32-year-old man, Robert Tassot, also perished.

Rescue operations at road location 34 involved gendarmes, two helicopters, 17 firemen and ambulances dispatched to the crash site.

The territorial road was blocked to all traffic for nearly two hours and was severely restricted for the rest of the day.

In order to coordinate evacuation and rescue, a crisis center was established by the French High Commission in Nouméa.

An investigation has been launched by police in an effort to determine the exact causes of the tragedy.

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