PARIS — At least 43 people — mostly elderly retirees — died in a fiery crash between a bus and a truck in southwestern France on Friday, authorities said.
French President Francois Hollande called the accident near the town of Puisseguin, close to Bordeaux, an "immense tragedy."
Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said firefighters were met with a "gigantic" blaze when they arrived on the scene and warned the "heavy" death toll could climb.
The local prefecture in Gironde said that the bus was carrying a group of elderly people when it crashed with the truck at about 7:30 a.m. local time (1:30 a.m. ET) around Puisseguin. It said eight people were injured — four seriously, including two people with head trauma and two with serious burns.
One child who had been in the truck was among the dead, the prefecture said. It was not immediately clear if the rest of the casualties were passengers on the bus. A spokesman for France's interior ministry told reporters it appeared that the victims were from the area.
France’s BFMTV reported that the few survivors managed to escape by smashing windows. More than 60 firefighters responded to the scene and helicopters were assisting, the station reported.
The National Gendarmerie said on Twitter that around 200 officers were mobilized.
Authorities said the cause of the accident on the route between Puisseguin and Libourne was under investigation.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve immediately headed to the scene of the crash.
Transport Minister Alain Vidalies posted a message on Twitter expressing support for families affected by the "catastrophe."
Friday's crash was one of the worst road accidents in recent French history.