Distraught relatives mourn victims of Taiwan bus crash

Taipei - Distraught relatives in Taiwan gathered to mourn their loved ones on Tuesday after a bus carrying elderly local tourists flipped on its side and left 33 dead in one of the island's worst ever road accidents.

The group of 44 people had been returning from a trip to see seasonal cherry blossoms at a farm in central Taichung region when their bus veered off a highway on Monday night on the outskirts of Taipei.

Television footage showed the top of the bus ripped off, with occupants tossed onto the roadside.

The latest victim died Tuesday morning after suffering multiple injuries and internal bleeding, Wanfang Hospital said, bringing the toll to 33.

The accident came after a bus fire last July killed 25 Chinese holidaymakers and is the latest in a series of deadly incidents that have tarnished Taiwan's safety record.

Police are investigating whether the bus was speeding at the time, according to reports.

Dashcam footage reported to be from a vehicle behind the bus shows it turning off the main highway onto an adjoining road. It then flipped over, leaving behind a mangled pile of metal, cleared later by cranes.

Passengers were asleep at the time of the crash and one survivor said it was "hell." "The bus was lopsided when it was passing the turn and people were waking up and screaming," 54-year-old Hsiao Shiu-hua told the China Times.

Relatives returned to the scene of the accident Tuesday to perform a religious ritual to appease the dead. They threw banknotes towards the slope where the bus crashed and chanted prayers.

Family members, some in tears, also gathered at a Taipei funeral parlour where some of the bodies are being held, with one of the relatives saying the tour agency that organised the trip should "take responsibility" for the disaster.

Some reports said the driver of the bus had been working for 14 hours straight.

But Ringo Lee of the Travel Agent Association of Taiwan said the driver had had "sufficient rest" before taking the group to the popular scenic area of Wuling.

The driver had two outstanding traffic violations, including one for not wearing a seatbelt, but no drunk-driving record, according to the transport ministry.

Lee added that the 19-year-old bus was a "high-class vehicle" and the ministry said it was due for a check in April.

An investigation into last year's fatal bus inferno outside Taipei found the driver had intentionally set fire to it in a suicide bid before it veered into a crash barrier.

Earlier this month, 21 Chinese tourists suffered injuries after their bus rammed into a railway bridge in southern Taiwan.