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Italy mourns 38 killed in coach crash

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Hearses lined up outside a school in southern Italy Monday as sobbing relatives watched them take away the coffins of those killed when a coach plunged off a highway near Naples, the worst such accident in western Europe in a decade.

A local priest held a mass outside the school in Monteforte Irpino where the bodies of 35 victims had been laid out in the gymnasium. Three more victims were being held in a local hospital.

"They told me to look at all the bodies until I found my brother," said one man who gave just the name Ciro.

"It was like a mountain had fallen on my head," he said of the search for his 40-year-old sibling.

One father had to be pulled way, moaning and clutching his son's coffin as it was carried to the waiting hearses, which would take the bodies to Pozzuoli, the town the victims were from, for funerals on Tuesday.

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta also announced a national day of mourning on Tuesday.

Local prosecutors have launched an investigation into possible manslaughter over Sunday evening's accident near the town of Avellino on the busy highway between the southern cities of Naples and Bari.

The coach, carrying 48 people including children, rammed several cars before it plunged off a viaduct through a crash barrier and down a slope about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Naples, in an area described as an accident black spot.

President Giorgio Napolitano described the crash as "an unacceptable tragedy" and called for improved road safety standards.

Police said 38 people had died, including the driver, although Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi had put the number of dead at 39.

Another 10 passengers were injured, along with another nine people in cars hit by the coach before it went off the road.

The group on the coach was returning from a pilgrimage to Pietrelcina in the Campania region, the birthplace of Padre Pio, an Italian priest canonised in 2002 and worshipped in the country's south.

Earlier Monday, officials had called out the names of each family from a list and the relatives put white masks over their mouths to go into the makeshift morgue in the gym.

"The relatives are in a terrible state. Each one has had to go in and look over the bodies to identify the ones they know. Several have been on the point of collapse," said Stefania Pisciotta, head of Calabria's Red Cross unit.

Rescuers have cleared the last of the wreckage from a wooded area off the highway, where a row of beige seats had lain, streaked with blood, along with passengers' belongings, including a child's teddy bear.

The coach crash was the deadliest in western Europe in the last decade and the worst in Europe since an October 2010 accident in Ukraine when 45 people died.

"This tragedy has profoundly moved our country... it is an open wound," said Letta, who was on a visit to Athens. "I am grieving for and express my profound sorrow to the families of the victims".

The ANSA news agency said a manslaughter probe would look into the possible role of the driver, as well as the state of the coach and the crash barrier on the highway.

Ansa said the driver's body would be examined for the possible presence of alcohol or drugs while traffic police have seized the vehicle documents from the coach operator Mondotravel.

Rescue workers pulled 33 bodies from the wreckage and found three more thrown from the vehicle as it plunged 30 metres (100 feet) down a slope.

Another two died in hospital of their injuries.

Photographers at the scene said about a dozen wrecked cars were strewn across the motorway, which had been closed to traffic.

One survivor, quoted by his uncle who met him in hospital, reported hearing a tyre exploding and that the driver had been unable to control the vehicle.

The last major bus accident in Europe was in March 2012 in Switzerland, when a coach carrying Belgian schoolchildren home from a skiing holiday crashed, killing 28 people, including 22 children.

The accident in Italy came just days after a train crash in Spain on Wednesday which killed 79 people, the deadliest rail disaster in the country in decades.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130729/italy-mourns-38-killed-coach-crash-1