At least 36 people have been killed after a long distance passenger bus smashed into a methane carrying transport taken in the Northern region of China last night.

The bus, an overnight sleeper, was travelling through the city of Yanan on the Baotou Motorway just after two in the morning when the incident occurred. The bus was on its way to the Shannxi province’s capital, Xian from Inner Mongolia. Both vehicles went up in flames after the collision, as the tanker was carrying highly flammable methane gas. According to eye witnesses, the accident occurred as the bus was attempting to re-enter the highway after filling up at a gas station.

According to the Xinhua local news agency, local police authorities have confirmed that only three passengers have survived the incident, all of which have sustained serious injuries and are currently undergoing treatment at local hospitals.

The cause of the accident is still unclear, and local authorities are launching an investigation into the bus company, the driver of the bus (who also perished in the accident) and the circumstances surrounding the incident. The driver and passenger of the tanker, who survived the incident, have been taken into police custody for questioning.

Regional police officer, Yue Jiuxiang, said in a statement to the state broadcaster CCTV that the entire bus was completely destroyed in the accident and ensuing fire. Most of the passengers were asleep at the time of the incident, which is why the death toll is so high, said Jiuxiang. It is also speculated that there was no emergency exit on the bus, making it impossible for passengers to escape from the fire.

Police officials as well as emergency and rescue personnel and the fire department responded to the scene of the accident to put out the fire and pull bodies and survivors from the wreckage. The flames were only completely extinguished two hours after the accident occurred.

Chinese media have published photographs of the gutted wreckage of the bus and tanker. The front portion of the tanker was virtually unscathed, while the bus was completely destroyed. This accident is the worst to happen in China since another sleeper bus went up in flames in July of 2011, killing 41 passengers.

China’s roads are treacherous, with traffic laws often being disregarded across the country. Last year, over 62 000 people were killed in road traffic accidents, according to government statistics.

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