ROME — Italian authorities Monday were tackling the difficult job of identifying the dead after an out of control bus plunged off a highway, leaving at least 38 dead and ten injured.
The scene of the crash — an embankment 100 feet below an elevated highway east of Naples — was strewn with seats that were ejected after the bus crashed through a barricade and off the highway around 8:30 p.m. Sunday and broke into two pieces upon impact.
Police corrected earlier comments by Transportation Minister Maurizio Lupi who said 39 people had died.
In a gymnasium in the nearby town of Monteforte Irpino, family members gathered at a makeshift morgue to identify their loved ones. Many of them had only heard about the accident from television reports.
Investigators searching for the cause of the crash were scouring video from highway surveillance cameras and questioning witnesses.
One survivor reported that a tire exploded, while investigators are checking whether the brakes failed, since there were no skid marks at the scene of the crash.
Lupi said the bus had passed its last inspection in March.
Local media said the driver tried desperately to keep the bus under control in the moments before the accident, ramming multiple vehicles on a highway near Naples.
The driver then scraped the bus along a concrete wall, apparently in an attempt to stop it, before it broke through a barricade and fell into the ravine.
“The rescue work was very difficult because all that remained of the bus was a wreck, with the passengers trapped between the metal sheets,” fire company commandant Alessio Barbarulo told the Ansa news agency.
Ansa also reported that there was an investigation into the safety of the stretch of road where the accident occurred, noting that there had been four fatal accidents there in the last five years.
There were 48 passengers on the bus. Of the survivors who have been brought to hospital, several were children. There also were nine injuries reported among the cars rammed by the bus in the moments before the crash.
The passengers were a group of acquaintances who had been traveling together for three days. They were returning from a trip to a spa when the accident occurred.
The driver was among the dead. His body will be screened for alcohol or drugs.
“It is a very sad day for Italy, what happened last night. There are no words for it,” said Prime Minister Enrico Letta, who cut short a trip to Greece. “It is a huge tragedy.”
A memorial service is set for Tuesday.
There was a moment of silence in parliament. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said he was “deeply saddened” by the accident and extended his “sorrow.”
Letta was to visit the site of the accident later and participate in Tuesday’s ceremony.