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At least 39 people, many of them children, have died when the bus they were travelling on careered through a concrete barrier on a flyover in southern Italy and plummeted 98 feet.
Rescuers worked in darkness to pull about 8 survivors – reported to be seriously injured – from the wreckage of the bus under the viaduct in Monteforte Irpino in the Campania region. But they were also recovering corpses which they lined up under white sheets.
The crash occurred on the A16 motorway in the province of Avellino. About 48 passengers were thought to be on board the bus.
Early reports suggested the bus was carrying pilgrims back from the shrine of Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo in Puglia. Later reports said they were on their way back from a holiday. Many of the victims were reportedly from the town of Giugliano in Campania.
Rescue workers on the viaduct above rushed to secure loose pieces of shattered concrete from the barrier which threatened to fall onto the bus as the first attempts to find survivors got underway below in the dark.
Eyewitness reports quoted by Sky Italia suggested the bus was travelling at a normal speed as it entered the flyover when a tire blew. The bus reportedly struck other vehicles, injuring their occupants, before the bus driver steered into the concrete barrier to avoid any further collisions, only for the barrier to give way. Other reports suggested the bus had suffered a brake failure as it entered the flyover.
A photographer at the scene said that cars had been hit by the coach as it crashed, and that several vehicles were piled up together.
“Looking down from the overpass, the scene of the tragedy: some 30 bodies covered by white sheets, lined up along the roadside,” said Cesare Abbate of Italy’s ANSA news agency.
Firefighters said that they had extracted 37 bodies – most of the dead were found inside the mangled bus, which lay on its side , while a few of the victims were pulled out from underneath the wreckage, the Italian news agency ANSA said.
Four children had been resuced alive from the wreckage of the coach.
Occupants of cars which were hit by the bus stood on the highway near their vehicles. One car’s rear was completely crumpled, while another was smashed on its side. It was not immediately known if anyone in those cars had been injured.
From time to time, rescue workers called for “a moment of silence” to listen for signs of life from the wreckage, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.
“Our priority now is to free the wounded,” a police spokesman said.
“The situation is critical,” head fireman Pellegrino Iandolo told SKY TG24 television. “Our men are working to save as many lives as possible.”
Efforts to free people from the wreckage were hampered by the location of the coach, which had landed in a patch of heavy undergrowth.