At least 47 people died and 34 were injured when a bus caught fire in Xiamen, Fujian, in the evening rush hour yesterday.
The Bus Rapid Transit express bus was travelling on an elevated road 500 metres from Jinshan station at about 6.30pm, Xinhua reported, citing an unidentified municipal government source.
Witnesses said they first spotted heavy smoke and that the flames spread rapidly. This was followed by loud explosions as passengers fled for their lives.
State Councillor Guo Shengkun - the public security minister who had just returned from Jilin , where a fire at a poultry slaughterhouse killed at least 120 people earlier in the week - is leading a State Council working group that was heading to Xiamen late yesterday.
The fire was extinguished in about 30 minutes. The cause is still being investigated.
Pictures circulating on the internet showed survivors in burned clothes on the road, some covered in blood. One young woman's face had been blackened by smoke, and another woman sat on the ground shoeless and her bare legs covered with blood.
Survivor Jiang Xiaoting told the Xiamen Daily she had been sitting at the rear of the bus next to a window when the fire broke out. She had smelled something strange at the stop before Jinshan station and then heard people screaming. She tried to crawl out through the window but her legs were pinned down by other passengers. She then felt a wave of heat and her legs were burned, but she managed to crawl out and run for her life.
A city government media briefing late last night confirmed Jiang's account, adding that the bus driver estimated about 80 passengers were on the bus.
Anxious family members ran from hospital to hospital in search of missing passengers. Many posted internet appeals for help to find loved ones; they included youngsters who had just sat the national university entrance examination.
China Central Television said many of the passengers worked for a sportswear company.
Xiamen's Bus Rapid Transit, an express bus system running on dedicated roads, began operating in 2008. It covers more than 80 kilometres and carries over 250,000 people a day. Xiamen Net said the buses are often crowded during rush hour.
Hours before the tragedy, Premier Li Keqiang chaired a national work safety video conference that announced workplace safety inspections would be held across the mainland until September.
The authorities said "chaotic" safety measures were a major factor in the high number of deaths in the Jilin fire. President Xi Jinping , who is in the United States to meet Barack Obama, issued a statement on Thursday ordering thorough workplace safety inspections to stamp out loopholes and potential hazards.