Italy's prime minster has joined thousands at a funeral service for the victims of a coach crash that killed 38 on Sunday. Prosecutors are investigating possible manslaughter in one of the country's worst road accidents.
Flags flew at half-mast and shops stayed shut on a national day of mourning on Tuesday as investigators probed why the coach plunged off a viaduct near Naples over the weekend. Prime Minister Enrico Letta joined bereaved relatives at a mass funeral in Pozzuoli, the southern Italy industrial town where most of the victims came from.
Surrounded by rescuers from the crash site and thousands of mourners, relatives of the victims huddled around flower-draped coffins laid out in a gym hall. Letta spoke of an "enormous tragedy" for Italy and President Giorgio Napolitano called for a "stronger engagement" to guarantee road safety in the country.
With 48 people on board including the driver, the bus rammed several cars after failing to brake on a bend, smashing through a crash barrier and plunging 30 meters (100 feet). Some witnesses quoted by Italian media said the bus had been gaining speed and "losing pieces" up to a kilometre before the actual impact. All 10 survivors remain in the hospital, several with serious injuries, and doctors have treated nine more people from the passenger vehicles on the road.
The bus went off the mountain in a known accident zone as passengers returned from a pilgrimage to Pietrelcina in the Campania region, the birthplace of Padre Pio, an Italian priest canonized in 2002 and worshipped in the country's south. Though rescuers quickly removed the shattered coach from the wooded area off the highway, passenger belongings streaked with blood - including shoes, books and a torn teddy bear - remained strewn on the ground.
Monday saw another grisly scene when hundreds of relatives of victims spent agonizing hours identifying bodies near the scene of the crash before emergency officials carried the coffins off. Officials called out the names of each family from a list and relatives put white masks over their mouths to enter the makeshift morgue. Sobbing relatives clutched at the coffins or collapsed into the arms of Red Cross workers.
Rosario Cantelmo, the prosecutor overseeing the investigation, has said officials have placed several people under investigation, but did not detail whom or how many. Authorities ordered an autopsy of the driver. Investigators have also examined the wreckage of the bus for evidence of possible mechanical failure, as well as the guard rails the coach broke through as it plunged off the road.
"We will do everything we can and we will ensure everyone gets justice," Cantelmo said.
mkg/ccp (Reuters, AFP, dpa)