Twenty-four of the 45 passengers on the ill-fated Greyhound bus that was hit Tuesday morning by a semitrailer truck returned to Salt Lake City Wednesday afternoon.
The passengers, who arrived on two buses, were either uninjured in the collision - which occurred on I-80 near Emory and was one of the worst traffic accidents in Utah history - or had relatively minor injuries.But though they are ambulatory, they still need lots of care, said Jerrianne Kolby, Salt Lake director of Red Cross emergency services.
The first bus arrived at the downtown Greyhound station a little after 4:30 p.m. Some of its 19 passengers disembarked on crutches, wearing casts and bandages. A second bus carrying five more seriously injured people arrived an hour or so later.
The passengers all needed to find ways either to get where they had been going or to go back to where they had started when they first got on the Chicago-bound bus.
But beyond that, the passengers all needed special attention.
"They saw a lot," Kolby said.
And what they saw can lead to delayed traumatic stress syndrome, a malady that emergency workers as well as disaster victims can experience much the same way combat veterans do if they don't get proper counseling and care, she said.
Passengers have recounted the horror that followed the collision, which killed seven passengers and injured 21 more, some of them critically. They recalled being splashed with blood and wading through bodies, not knowing if they were dead or alive. And when they emerged from the ruinous belly of the bus, they were greeted first by blinding snow, then by strangers who grabbed them and shoved them, albeit to safety. Many of them lost their luggage, their clothing, wallets, money. Some of them lost needed medication.
A psychiatrist traveled with the passengers riding in the second bus back to Salt Lake City on Wednesday. He told Kolby that those passengers, most of whom had head injuries, are going to have an especially hard time trying to cope with the aftermath of the accident.
"One of the passengers just kept saying, `The person next to me died.' And he's scared of flying. But no trains go where he wants to go," Kolby said.
Most of the passengers "didn't want to be alone. I'm sure that's why some of them stayed with families in Evanston last night," Kolby said.
But others are still in shock. "They just want to be alone," she said.
One man, approached by a reporter, said he had tired of talking about the accident and just didn't want to talk any more. He sat away from the others, and to no one in particular repeated that he just couldn't talk about it. Every now and then a noise that sounded like a deep sob tore from his chest.
"I just don't feel too good right now," he said, looking down and rearranging his crutches.
Greyhound made arrangements for all of them to stay at the Olympus Hotel downtown Wednesday night. Kolby said she asked the psychiatrist to stay, too.
"I told him that I thought they could use a little more reassurance," she said. "He'll be there all night for them."
Greyhound also made the travel arrangements, a difficult task exacerbated by the fact that the airlines are solidly booked with holiday travelers. LDS Hospital replaced the lost medications. And when the passengers get to their destinations, each of them will be met by a Red Cross worker who will see to their needs, Kolby said.
But because the airlines are so jammed, some of the passengers aren't going to get to their destinations until Thursday night. "It's just going to be that much harder on them," she said.
But, she said, even the people who seemed the most emotionally damaged when they first got off the buses were doing a little better after they had been in the Salt Lake bus station for a while.
One of them was the man who had declined to talk to the reporter. "Do you know his story?" Kolby asked. "He wasn't hurt in the collision. He was hurt while he was helping the other people.
"What was so neat - if anything in this is neat - was the way they all protected each other, continued to protect each other," Kolby said. "Disaster has a way of doing that to you. What's important is that the person next to you is OK."
The Utah Highway Patrol has identified sis of the seven victims of Tuesday's tragic bus accident as follows:
Marria E. Yeager, 55, Orem.
Melinda Martin, 19, Afton, Wyo.
Neddie Hernandez, 41, Idaho Falls, Idaho.
Tina Marie Jones, 7, Idaho Falls, Idaho.
Lance E. Jolley, 28, Glendale, Wis.
Troy Jenkins, 20, Labanon, Ore.
Officials have only tentatively identified the seventh victim , a black male, and are attempting to locate next of kin.