Dozens burned to death in bus fire

Only 5 of 51 aboard vehicle escaped, officials in India say

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NEW DELHI — At least 44 people were burned to death early Wednesday when the luxury bus they were traveling on lost control and ignited in southeastern Andhra Pradesh state, underscoring the dangerous state of Indian roads.

Five passengers out of the 51 people aboard the air-conditioned luxury Volvo bus managed to escape by breaking windows, said Pradeep Reddy, additional police superintendent in the state's Mahabubnagar district. The driver and his assistant fled through the door even as the rest perished in the rapidly spreading blaze. Indian media reported that the emergency exits jammed, preventing escape.

Police said the bus was on an overnight run from Bangalore to Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, when it tried to overtake another vehicle around 5 a.m. and hit a drain, igniting the fuel tank.

Most passengers were reportedly sleeping when the accident occurred some 90 miles south of Hyderabad. Authorities reported having trouble identifying the badly charred bodies. Adding to the difficulty, several people boarded along the way, so their names were not on any passenger list.

"The postmortems are going on near the highway, where we've set up a temporary camp," Reddy said. "None of the bodies have been identified so far. Our preliminary investigation suggests this was an accident, not sabotage. The driver wasn't sleeping or anything like that."

TV footage showed extensive smoke and flames engulfing the gutted bus, its left side twisted and partially collapsed from the heat, its tires completely incinerated except for their metal reinforcement strips. Local residents could be seen throwing water from white buckets at the smoking remains of the bus, owned by privately held Jabbar Travels, based in Hyderabad.