At least 44 people have been been killed – many of them burned to death – when a fire engulfed a bus that crashed in southern India.
Officials said the fuel tank of the vehicle appeared to have exploded after the bus hit the central reservation of a highway between the cities of Bangalore and Hyderabad at around 5.30am on Wednesday. Some reports said the bus was trying to overtake another vehicle when the accident happened.
Five people, including the driver and a bus cleaner, managed to break the glass to escape before flames swept through the rest of the vehicle. Several children were said to be among the dead.
“The number of dead, which includes children, is 44,” a local police official Venkateshwarlu, who uses only one name, told the AFP news agency. “The driver and the cleaner tried to run, but the police caught them and they are now in our custody for questioning.”
Reports said the bus, operated by the Hyderabad-based Jabbar Travel company, had set off on Tuesday evening and was making its way south to Bangalore when it hit a central reservation close to the town of Kothakota.
There had been a total of 49 people on the bus. Those who survived were taken to a hospital in the town of Wanaparthy before being moved to larger facilities in Hyderabad.
India is plagued by traffic accidents, a situation fuelled by a combination of poor roads and speeding drivers.
In May, at least 33 people died when an overcrowded bus skidded off a road into a river in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh. In 2008, more than 60 people died in a bus fire in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
According to the Indian government’s National Crime Records Bureau, 131,834 people died in road accidents in India in 2011, a figure of 15 people every hour.