Firefighters stand near the wreckage of a bus following a crash near Avellino, southern Italy, Monday, July 29, 2013. A tour bus filled with Italians returning home after an excursion plunged off a highway into a ravine in southern Italy on Sunday night after it had smashed into several cars that were slowed by heavy traffic, killing at least 37 people, said police and rescuers. Flashing signs near Avellino, outside Naples, had warned of slowed traffic ahead along a stretch of the A16 autostrada, a major highway crossing southern Italy, before the crash occurred, said highway police and officials, speaking on state radio early Monday. They said the bus driver, for reasons not yet determined, appeared to have lost control of his vehicle. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
ROME (AP) — Rescuers wielding electric saws cut through the twisted wreckage of an Italian tour bus for survivors of a crash in southern Italy that killed at least 37 people after it crashed into traffic and plunged into a ravine on Sunday night.
Reports said as many as 49 people — mostly Italians — had been aboard the bus when it ripped through a guardrail, then plunged some 30 meters (100 feet) off a viaduct near a wooded area. In its plunge, the bus tore away whole sections of concrete barriers as well as guardrail. The concrete lay in large chunks in a clearing in a wooded area where the bus landed. State radio quoted Avellino police as saying the bus driver was among the dead.
The bus lost control near the town of Monteforte Irpino in Irpinia, a largely agricultural area about 40 miles (60 kilometers) inland from Naples and about 250 kilometers (160 miles) south of Rome.
The radio report said 11 people were hospitalized with injuries, two of them in critical condition. It was not immediately known if there were other survivors or any missing.
Flashing signs near Avellino, outside Naples, had warned of slowed traffic ahead along a stretch of a major highway crossing southern Italy, before the crash occurred, said highway police and officials, speaking on state radio early Monday.
It was not immediately clear why the bus driver lost control of the vehicle.
A reporter for Naples daily Il Mattino, Giuseppe Crimaldi, told Sky TG24 TV from the scene that some witnesses told him the bus had been going at a "normal" speed on the downhill stretch of the highway when it suddenly veered and started hitting cars. He said some witnesses thought they heard a noise as if the bus had blown a tire.
Hours after the crash, firefighters said that they had extracted 37 bodies — most of the dead were found inside the mangled bus, which lay on its side , while a few of the victims were pulled out from underneath the wreckage, state radio and the Italian news agency ANSA reported.
Occupants of cars which were hit by the bus stood on the highway near their vehicles. One car's rear was completely crumpled, while another was smashed on its side. It was not immediately known if anyone in those cars had been injured.
Early reports said the passengers had spent the day in Puglia, an area near the Adriatic on the east coast famed for religious shrines. But on Monday, a state radio reporter at the scene said authorities told him that the bus had been bringing the passengers home after an outing to a thermal spa area near Benevento, a town not far from Avellino. Others at the scene said the passengers might have visited another nearby town, Benevento, which was the early home of Padre Pio, a late mystic monk popular among Catholics in Italy.
Passengers came from small towns near Naples, and relatives streamed to the crash site.
AP photographer Salvatore Laporta contributed to this report.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.