Death toll from China bus fire rises to 35

Smoke rising from the burning wreckage of a bus after it crashed, in Hunan province, on June 26, 2016.
Smoke rising from the burning wreckage of a bus after it crashed, in Hunan province, on June 26, 2016.PHOTO: CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK/WEIBO

BEIJING (REUTERS, AFP) - At least 35 people, including two children, died after a tour bus crashed and caught fire in central China, state media reported on Sunday (June 26).

Huge clouds of thick black smoke billowed from the vehicle after the bus slammed into a roadside concrete barrier in Hunan province, video footage showed. One person was seen being dragged to safety.  

Some passengers limped out of the bus covered in blood, the state news agency Xinhua reported.  

It quoted a survivor surnamed Huang as saying that the driver told the passengers that he could not open the bus door, before escaping from the window beside his seat.  

Huang saved himself by smashing another window with a fire extinguisher.

Images recorded after the fire in Yizhang county was extinguished showed the charred bus totally destroyed and sitting atop a pile of ash.  

A total of 55 people were on the vehicle, Xinhua cited local officials as saying.

Eleven people were hospitalised after the crash, with four people seriously injured, Xinhua said, adding that the driver of the bus had been detained.

Local officials believe that an oil leak caused by the bus crashing into a roadside guard rail may have caused the fire, Xinhua said.

Traffic accidents are common in China, with more than 250,000 people dying each year on the country's roads, according to the World Health Organisation.

Public Security Minister Guo Shengkun has ordered intensive efforts to save the injured, establish the cause of the accident and take measures to prevent a recurrence, Xinhua said.  

It said a team headed by Vice-Public Security Minister Huang Ming was heading to the scene.

Long-distance buses are popular as a cheap way of travelling between cities and competition between bus firms can be fierce.

China has seen repeated bus fires in recent years which have caused multiple fatalities.  

A total of 38 people were killed in 2014 when a van carrying flammable liquid hit a bus on a highway in Hunan province.  

In 2010 a shuttle bus carrying steel factory workers in eastern China burst into flames, killing 24 passengers.  

Several such incidents were deliberate arson attacks, according to officials, but there were no indications that the fire on Sunday was deliberate. Xinhua said rescuers were searching the charred frame for clues.