School bus crash in China's Jiangsu province kills 15

Scene of the school bus accident that left 15 children dead in Jiangsu province, China, on 13 December 2011 Although the water in the ditch was not deep, it still claimed 15 young lives

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Fifteen children have been killed in China after their school bus veered off a road into an irrigation ditch.

Many of the children drowned as ditch water gushed into the overturned bus in eastern Jiangsu province, officials said.

The tragedy comes amid a national outcry over recent similar incidents.

Only on Sunday, the government issued draft measures to guarantee children's safety, including compulsory checks on buses and their drivers.

Monday's accident happened as the 29 children were being driven home from school along a rural road in Fengxian county.

The bus driver - who officials say has now been taken into custody - had apparently swerved to avoid a motorised rickshaw.

Nearby factory workers heard cries and rushed to help the children, many of whom were trapped at the bottom of the overturned bus.

"The water was not very deep, probably more than a metre (yard) or so - up to an adult's waist - but it was deep enough to drown some of the children," Zhang, the wife of the factory owner, told the Associated Press.

"We tried so hard and cracked open one of the windows and started to pull the kids out. It was freezing cold."

She said the children ranged in age from six to 14. Eight of the children were injured.

'Overcrowded'

Officials have said the bus could carry 52 people so was not overloaded at the time of the accident.

They have been keen to draw a distinction between a crash in Gansu province last month in which 19 kindergarten children died, the BBC's Michael Bristow in Beijing reports.

On that occasion, more than 60 youngsters were crammed into a minibus that originally had just nine seats.

Officials will, nevertheless, face tough questions about this latest accident involving a school bus, our correspondent adds.

Monday also saw another crash involving a school bus, this time in southern Guangdong province. Some 37 pupils were injured after the bus carrying 59 children was hit by a heavy-duty truck, Xinhua news agency reports.

Correspondents say school buses are often overloaded in China, and children are increasingly being forced to travel further as schools close in rural areas hit by migration to the cities.

'History repeats'

Millions of messages have been posted on the Chinese social media site Weibo, expressing outrage, sadness and frustration: "Another schoolbus accident!!! How much longer before this can be rectified?!" one user wrote.

Some also criticised the new safety regulations being drafted by the government, saying that allowing schools a three-year transition period to adopt the rules is too long.

"In China, history repeats itself," wrote one microblogger. "You can wait three years, but life can't. The ink and blood have yet to dry. Do we need more heartache?"

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