41 die as crowded bus erupts in flames

Updated: 2011-07-23 08:00

By Liu Xiangrui (China Daily)

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41 die as crowded bus erupts in flames

Survivors say fire moved so quickly, victims had no chance to escape

ZHENGZHOU - A fire in an overcrowded bus killed 41 of the 47 passengers on board in Central China's Henan province on Friday in one of the country's worst road accidents this year.

The double-decker bus was heading overnight to Hunan province from Shandong province when it caught fire in the early morning on a highway, China Central Television (CCTV), said, adding that the cause of the disaster is still being investigated.

Five passengers and the driver were pulled alive from the bus, which reportedly was designed to carry only 35 passengers.

The six survivors were rushed to hospitals for emergency treatment for burn wounds. One was in critical condition, CCTV reported.

The television report said there were "flammable materials" on board, but did not provide details.

The fire occurred along the Xinyang section of the Beijing-Zhuhai Highway about 4 am and was extinguished about two hours later, according to local police.

Survivors said a fast-spreading blaze broke out after an explosion and by the time the bus stopped after about 160 meters, it was already too late for many people to escape. The flames consumed the bus down to its iron framework.

Photos of the tragedy show the bus had been completely gutted in the blaze.

Victim's remains were burned beyond recognition and they would have to be identified by DNA tests, said local police, who were collecting DNA samples at the scene.

The bus, with 35 sleeper berths, was overloaded when it left Weihai in Shandong province, heading southwest to Changsha, provincial capital of Central China's Hunan province, according to Henan provincial administration of work safety.

The police said it was too soon to determine the cause of the accident and further investigation was needed. However, survivors' accounts of the fast-spreading flames led experts investigating early at the scene to suspect flammable materials or explosives might be involved.

Investigators sought more information from the driver at the hospital.

Wang Dexue, deputy director of the State Administration of Work Safety and Huang Ming, vice-minister of public security, are heading for the site from Beijing to direct the investigation, according to Xinhua News Agency.

Officials from Shandong province and Weihai city were also heading there to assist.

The burned-out bus stopped at the side of the highway, and authorities blocked traffic in all but one lane. Henan provincial authorities said they are giving priority to cleaning the site to ensure safety on the major north-south artery.

Chinese drivers looking to maximize profits often load their buses with too many passengers, sometimes triggering deadly incidents.

In 2010, more than 65,200 people died in road accidents - around 178 a day - according to official statistics.

Xinhua contributed to this story.

China Daily

(China Daily 07/23/2011 page3)