At least 42 people, most of them elderly, were killed after a bus and a truck collided on a road near Bordeaux in southwestern France and caught fire, local officials said Friday.
The two vehicles collided head-on near the village of Puisseguin north of Bordeaux, in what is the deadliest road accident in France for more than 30 years.
The two drivers were killed, while the rest of the victims were passengers on the coach, local authorities in the prefecture of Gironde said.
However, the driver of the bus managed to open the door, allowing some to escape, said Puisseguin’s Mayor Xavier Sublett on France’s i-Tele TV station.
Five passengers managed to escape from the coach, which had caught fire. Three others were unharmed, local authorities said.
Scores of emergency workers in the region were sent to the scene of the crash to help.
‘Cloud of smoke’
Images shown on French television showed the coach as a charred shell that had been entirely burned.
— Sud Ouest (@sudouest) 23 октября 2015
«I saw a cloud of smoke,» local resident Yvette Seguy told i-Tele, adding that it took place in the countryside on a bend that is known to be dangerous.
«The French government has fully mobilised after this terrible tragedy,» French President François Hollande said from Athens, where he is on an official visit, adding that he was «plunged into sadness by this tragic event”.
The coach, which was carrying 49 passengers and a driver, had departed early Friday from the village of Petit-Palais near the site of the accident to take its elderly passengers out on an excursion.
A French interior ministry spokesperson said that all the victims appeared to be French nationals.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and Transport Minister Alain Vidalies were on their way to the site, according to the transport ministry.
It had not been ruled out that Hollande might cut short his visit to Greece to visit the crash site.
Valls expressed his condolences to the victims’ families in a tweet.
“Emotion in the face of this very heavy toll. Compassion and support to the families of the victims,” he said.
Catastrophe routière en Gironde : émotion face à ce très lourd bilan. Compassion et soutien aux familles des victimes. #Libourne
— Manuel Valls (@manuelvalls) 23 октября 2015
“France is devastated,” tweeted the mayor of Bordeaux and former prime minister Alain Juppé.
Pierre Henri-Brandet, spokesman for the interior ministry, told BFMTV that four people «were extremely severely injured» – two with burns and two with head injuries.
«It’s an incredible tragedy with an extremely heavy toll. It’s a catastrophe,» he said.
«They were retired people, elderly people, who were going on a day out,» he added.
Henri-Brandet added that the accident happened just a few minutes after the bus left from the village of Petit-Palais-Cornemps.
The group were part of a club for retired people and were heading south to the nearby region of Landes for a visit.
A statement from the French presidency said the lorry was carrying wood.
Pierre Dartout, the top government official for the Aquitaine region, said the circumstances of the crash remained unclear, however.
Speaking to reporters near the crash site, he said a preliminary investigation had been opened by authorities.
The crash is the deadliest on French roads since a bus accident in Beaune in eastern France in 1982 claimed the lives of 53 people, most of them children.