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Expressway horror as crashes claim 47 lives

By Xu Chi (Shanghai Daily)

08:32, August 27, 2012

FORTY-SEVEN people died and four others were injured in two separate expressway collisions in China yesterday.

The first accident occurred at around 2:18am in northwest China's Shaanxi Province, when a fully-loaded double-decker sleeper coach rammed into the back of a tanker loaded with highly inflammable methanol, triggering a fire that engulfed both vehicles and left 36 people on the bus dead, including the driver.

Only three people survived the accident. Two of them are being treated in hospital for serious burns.

The two drivers of the tanker, who were not injured, were taken into police custody as an investigation began.

In the other accident, a van carrying 12 people crashed into a heavy-duty truck on an expressway in southwest China's Sichuan Province yesterday afternoon, killing 10 people in the van and injuring the two others.

The two injured were sent to a nearby hospital but one died at 3:30pm after rescue efforts failed.

The truck was stopped at the roadside for a tire repair when the van rear-ended it, local work safety authorities said.

In the Shaanxi accident, the bus, full of sleeping passengers, was heading from Inner Mongolia's capital Hohhot to Shaanxi's capital city of Xi'an when it rear-ended the tanker, which had just returned to the expressway after an early morning rest stop in the station close to Yan'an City in Shaanxi.

Both vehicles burst into flames after methanol leaked from the tanker.

A staff member at a nearby gas station said he heard the crash. "It sounded like a tire bursting," the man said.

He and his colleagues rushed to the scene with extinguishers when they saw fire break out.

The fire brigade in Ansai County received an alarm call at about 2:40am and three fire engines and 10 firefighters were sent to the scene, said Wei Chaoyang, director of the fire brigade.

"We found that the fire was very big and the methanol that leaked from the tanker was keeping running to the bus and nearby drainage, forming a 'running fire' that hampered our rescue," Wei said.

Wang Xianze, one of the three survivors, told reporters that he was sleeping, like the other passengers, when suddenly he felt a blast like a bomb going off.

He said he felt a huge shockwave crush against his chest, making it extremely hard to breathe and he was knocked out for about 60 seconds. When he regained consciousness, he jumped out of a window, sustaining injuries to his legs.

He had just two minutes to escape before the fire engulfed both vehicles. "After regaining consciousness, I fumbled about feeling my body and head and found I was not injured. So I opened the window by my side and jumped out," he said, adding that the other passengers didn't have enough time to escape.

Another survivor, Zhang Shixiong, 42, from Hohhot, said: "I was sleeping when the huge bang woke me up. I got up fast and pulled the passenger beside me, asking him to run as the bus has caught fire.

"I was so scared that I kept running out without looking back. As soon as I ran out of the bus, it exploded in another bang."

Wei Xuemei, 27, the third survivor, from Sichuan Province, said she was woken up by the sound of people trying to smash open the bus windows.

"I tried hard to smash the windows open but it didn't work. Then I ran and escaped the bus by climbing through the bus' burnt iron frame," she said.

Yue Jiuxiang, an official with Yan'an City Fire Bureau, said the accident caused so many casualties because the liquid methanol had leaked from the tanker to the bus.

The bus was so badly damaged in the crash that passengers were not able to escape from the front door, Yue said.

The fire spread extremely fast as the bus was carrying a lot of flammable goods such as quilts and passengers' luggage.

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