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At least 37 killed as Italian bus plunges

ROME -- A tour bus filled with Italians returning home from an excursion plunged off a highway into a ravine in southern Italy Sunday night after it had smashed into several cars that were slowed by heavy traffic. At least 37 people were killed, said police and rescuers.

Flashing signs near Avellino, outside Naples, had warned of slowed traffic ahead along a major highway crossing southern Italy before the crash occurred, said highway police and officials on state radio early Monday. They said the bus driver appeared to have lost control of his vehicle.

Hours after the crash, firefighters said they had extracted 37 bodies -- most of the dead were found inside the mangled bus, which lay on its side, while a few victims were pulled from underneath the wreckage, the Italian news agency ANSA said.

State radio said 11 people were hospitalized with injuries, two of them in very critical condition.

It was not immediately known if there were other survivors or any missing. Reports said as many as 49 people had been aboard the bus when it ripped through a guardrail after slamming into several cars, then plunged some 100 feet off the highway and into a ravine near a wooded area.

State radio quoted Avellino police as saying the bus driver was among the dead. It was not immediately known whether anyone in the cars hit by the bus had been injured.

Initial reports said the passengers had spent the day in Puglia, an area near the Adriatic on the east coast famed for religious shrines. But on Monday, a state radio reporter said authorities told him the bus had been bringing the passengers home after an outing to a thermal spa near the town of Benevento.

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