|Photo taken on Feb. 8, 2013 shows a pile-up scene on the Changde-Zhangjiajie Expressway in Changde, central China's Hunan Province.(Xinhua/Zhou Xing)|
CHANGSHA, Feb. 8 (Xinhua) -- Fifteen people are dead and more than 60 others are injured after an eight-vehicle pileup up on an icy expressway in central China's Hunan Province on Friday morning.
The accident occurred at around 4:40 a.m. as buses, sedan cars and a minivan crashed together on a viaduct in the Changde City section of the expressway from Changde to Zhangjiajie in Hunan, according to the local expressway administration.
Police said 12 people were killed in the pileup, while three others died after falling off the viaduct, which is dozens of meters above the ground, after they tried to escape in darkness.
Reporters at the site said most of the victims were people travelling home for the upcoming Spring Festival, or Chinese Lunar New Year, that falls on Sunday.
Traffic police said the pileup started with a car-minivan collision but later involved more vehicles as they presumably failed to make emergency stops on the ice-coated roads.
"It happened when we were asleep -- when we made it out of the vehicle, it was already a mangled mess," recalled Chen Weihua, who was slightly hurt in the accident.
Chen was in a minivan with her husband, who also survived the crash with injuries, as they were returning home in Hunan's Taoyuan County for the holiday.
"There was a strong smell of gasoline, and the driver urged us to hurry on as the vehicle might explode. We were very frightened," she said.
All the injured have been hospitalized and doctors said seven are in serious or critical conditions.
As the most important occasion for family reunions, the Spring Festival is expected to see a record 3.41 billion trips made during this year's travel rush, a testing moment for the country's rail and road systems.
Speeding, overloading and bad driving habits compounded by poor road conditions, especially in some mountainous regions, often lead to a rash of road accidents around this time of year.
From Friday to Sunday last week, six major accidents claimed more than 60 lives on roads across China.
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