54 dead in Brazil bus crash: Rousseff

Javier Tovar
Brazilian emergency response workers said the bus plunged off the side of one of the dangerous roads in Campo Alegre (AFP Photo/)

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) - The death toll from a tour bus's horrific plunge into a densely wooded ravine in southern Brazil rose to 54 on Sunday, as President Dilma Rousseff expressed her sadness over the news.

The bus went off a twisting mountain road on Saturday and crashed 400 meters (1,300 feet) to the bottom of the ravine, where it lay a twisted mass of metal.

Firefighters pulled the victims from the wreckage despite the difficult terrain and the bodies were taken to a morgue, officials said.

"It is with sadness that I learned the news of the death of 54 people in a bus accident in the Sierra Dona Francisca," Rousseff said in a statement.

"In this hour of pain and suffering, I want to extend my condolences to the families and friend who lost their loved ones," she said.

Among the dead are the driver and eight children, the regional government press office told AFP.

Ten people were taken to the hospital, but their conditions were not immediately known.

A government official in Santa Catarina told AFP Sunday morning that the vehicle was likely carrying 59 people. The bus was supposed to be carrying 50 people, authorities said.

Several ambulances and a helicopter were dispatched to the area and recovery efforts were set to resume Sunday afternoon.

Authorities said Saturday the chance of finding any more survivors was slim.

Investigators will study the crash site and then the bus will be removed from the area. There was no reports that foreign nationals were on board the bus.

According to witnesses, the driver lost control of the bus on a downhill turn. Authorities have yet to determine the cause of the crash.

Several drivers stopped to assist the injured before authorities arrived, local press reported.

The bus was from a tourism company that covers a 300-kilometer (180-mile) route between Uniao da Vitoria and Guaratuba on the coast of Santa Catarina.

Nearly a hundred rescue workers descended on the crash site, but the difficult terrain and night fall complicated the work.

Accidents are frequent on this winding rural road. Sixty-six people were killed on it in the last five years, reported newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo.

The Dona Francisca mountains in the south of the country attract thousands of tourists a year due its largely untouched forest and vegetation. Two kilometers from the crash site was a popular lookout point in the area.

Santa Catarina last had a crash nearing this size in 2007, which left 27 dead. In 1999 another crash killed 35.

Some 43,000 Brazilians die on average every year in traffic accidents on the country's congested roads. Around 10,000 additional cars hit the city's streets every year in the growing nation.

Poorly maintained roadways, as well as excess speed and reckless driving are to blame for a majority of accidents, police say.

The country has adopted UN recommendations to halve traffic deaths and injuries by 2020.