Shock in Italy after bus crash kills 38

Government declares day of national mourning

29 July, 18:42

    (by Kate Carlisle) (ANSAmed) - Rome, July 29 - Police said on Monday that they believe a mechanical failure was the cause of a fatal bus crash overnight Sunday in southern Italy that killed at least 38 passengers and injured 19. The government has declared tomorrow, tuesday, a day of national mourning. Italy's Infrastructure Minister Maurizio Lupi said that he believed the number of dead to be 39.

    The bus slammed into a guardrail that it travelled down for at least 100 meters before flying off a high viaduct when the protective railing gave way, police said. Before crashing into the railing, the bus struck six cars travelling on the highway.

    A group of friends was returning from a weekend excursion to the local Telese thermal baths and the popular pilgrimage destination of Pietralcina, home town of the Italian saint Padre Pio.

    Rescue crews worked overnight to extract survivors and victims from the wreckage, and a local school was converted temporarily into a morgue while the bodies are being identified.

    Police investigating said that there were no skid marks indicating that the driver had braked.

    Parts from the transmission of the bus were found more than a kilometer away from the site of the accident and police also said that the bus was travelling "at high speed and with the front door open or missing".

    Workers are still trying to recover the vehicles black box with a record of its speed, kilometers travelled and rest time, but police believe that the driver tried to reduce his speed by driving along the guardrail.

    All of the passengers were long-time friends who frequently took trips together organized by a delicatessen owner from Pozzuoli, Luciano Caiazzo.

    At least five children were on the bus, all of whom survived. Italian Premier Enrico Letta cancelled a planned visit to the Acropolis in Athens on Monday, but continued with the rest of his itinerary in Greece as planned.

    Letta will attende the funeral of the victims on Tuesday in Pozzuoli.

    Letta said that he joined together "in agony and pain" with the families of the victims.

    "I want to express my support and that of the government," Letta said from Greece where he was meeting with his counterpart Antonis Samaras.

    "We are deeply saddened by this enormous tragedy that has struck many families and many children," he said. Samaras also expressed condolences for the accident.

    Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said that he was "deeply saddened" by the accident.

    "This tragedy reminds us of the need for a more decisive commitment to road-safety initiatives to reduce risk factors.

    "Maintenance and driver checks must be protect ourselves, our loved ones and others," Napolitano said.

    "It is too early to make assumptions about the causes of the accident. Right now we need silence and to be close to the families," Avellino police chief Sergio Bracco said.

    The crash is the second deadly transport accident in Europe in the last week. A rail disaster in Spain last Wednesday killed 78 passengers, including 25-year-old Italian Dario Lombardo.

    Premier Enrico Letta's cabinet is meeting at 18.00 local time on Monday to declare a period of national mourning following a bus crash in southern Italy in which at least 38 people died, a government statement said.

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