Peru bus pile-up kills 37

Vehicles drive through heavy traffic in Lima on November 29, 2013 (AFP Photo/Ernesto Benavides)

Lima (AFP) - At least 37 people were killed when a bus swerved into oncoming traffic in Peru Monday, leading to a multi-vehicle collision involving two other buses and a truck, authorities said.

Health Minister Anibal Velasquez, who was on his way to the crash site near the northern city of Huarmey, told local radio the accident also left 70 people injured.

Six people who were badly wounded were taken by helicopter to hospital in the capital Lima, about 300 kilometers (185 miles) south.

The local hospital in Huarmey overwhelmed by the number of injured, the fire department said in a statement.

Rescuers rushed to adapt other health centers in the area to accommodate the overflow, it said.

The head of the highway police, Orfiles Bravo, said a bus belonging to the Murga Serrano line had swerved into an oncoming lane on the Pan American Highway.

It was then hit by the truck and two other buses, Bravo told RPP radio.

The Murga bus "was split in two," he said.

Television images showed bodies sprawled out on the pavement after the crash.

Authorities initially gave a death toll of 22, but the health ministry said that number had increased sharply as rescue workers managed to access the wreckage.

The government declared an emergency and ordered more ambulances to the crash site, the head of the council of ministers, Ana Jara, said on Twitter.

Forty-two passengers on the Murga bus were members of a Christian evangelical church, the World Missionary Movement, who were returning from a convention in Lima.

"We are waiting for news," said church leader Roberto Perez.

Peruvian media reports said the injured and stranded passengers also included Haitian and Senegalese travelers.

Peru's roads are notoriously dangerous. In the first half of last year, 1,406 people were killed in road accidents. The full-year death toll was 3,590 in 2013 and 4,138 in 2012.

Monday's accident came as the Peruvian Congress held a forum on making the country's roads safer.