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Inferno on rush hour Chengdu bus kills 25

AT least 25 people died and dozens were hurt yesterday when a packed commuter bus burst into flames and was destroyed within minutes during the morning rush hour in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu.

Seventy-six people were injured, six of whom were in intensive care last night in the Sichuan Province capital, city government spokesman Mao Zhixiong said.

State broadcaster China Central Television quoted witnesses as saying that the sealed, air-conditioned bus caught fire without an explosion and then burned rapidly. The vehicle was powered by diesel fuel, authorities said.

Interviewed by a Website operated by the Chengdu city government, resident Tao Shoulang said he was sitting in the front row with his grandniece when the bus filled with smoke so quickly that he was unable to see the driver.

Pedestrians rushed to break the vehicle's windows, allowing Tao to toss the little girl to safety before scrambling out. Both suffered minor injuries, but Tao's wife failed to escape immediately and was hurt more seriously and was undergoing hospital treatment.

"The bus had air conditioning and only the windows at the rear-most seats could be opened by hand," said 29-year-old Deng Huaqiong.

She sat in the second row from the rear and jumped out after someone opened the back window. Deng suffered slight burns and was receiving medical treatment.

The bus was always crowded during rush hours and most of the emergency hammers to smash its windows had disappeared long ago, witnesses said.

The fire began around 8am when the No. 9 bus was on its way from Tianhui Township to downtown Chengdu.

"There was a strange smell in the bus when it was on Chuanshan Viaduct, but the driver refused to stop and said the smell would be dealt with after the bus was off the viaduct," said a relative of an injured passenger.

"In a few seconds, the fire broke out," the relative said.

A motorist surnamed Li said she saw smoke coming from the back of the bus and pulled alongside to warn the driver. She blew her horn and made gestures, but he ignored her, she said.

A witness said he saw thick smoke as passengers fled from the burning bus, their clothes and skin scorched and bleeding.

"The driver escaped the fire and helped in the rescue," said a vendor doing business near the bus station.

Firefighters arrived at 8:09am, and the blaze was extinguished a few minutes later, said He Jiansheng, deputy director of the Chengdu Public Security Bureau. He said police were questioning the bus driver as investigators sought to determine the cause of the fire.


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