A bus in southern India crashed into a highway barrier and erupted in flames early Wednesday, killing at least 40 people -- many of them burned alive in the inferno, officials said.
The tragedy happened on a highway between the cities of Bengaluru and Hyderabad, piercing the fuel tank, local police spokesman Venkateshwarlu told Agence France-Presse
"The driver and the cleaner tried to run, but the police caught them and they are now in our custody for questioning," said Venkateshwarlu, adding that the three other survivors had been admitted to a local hospital.
The privately operated bus was passing another vehicle when it crashed into the roadside barrier in Mehabubnagar in southern Andhra Pradesh state, said Deputy Inspector General of Police Naveen Kumar. The diesel tank then caught fire and engulfed the bus in flames, according to Pradeep, a police official who goes by one name.
Media reports said that most of the passengers were asleep when the bus burst into flames about 85 miles from Hyderabad, leaving them little time to scramble to safety.
India has the highest number of annually reported road trasffic fatalities in the world, according to the World Health Organization.
Around 140,000 people died in road accidents in India in 2012, according to the government's National Crime Records Bureau, which works out at 15 every hour. Most crashes are blamed on reckless driving, poorly maintained roads and aging vehicles.
In May, at least 33 people died when an overcrowded bus skidded off a road into a fast-flowing river in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh.
At least 30 were killed earlier this month in the northeastern state of Assam when a heavy goods truck careered onto the wrong side of the road and smashed head-on into two packed vehicles.
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