Italy mourns 38 coach crash victims

Thousands attended a funeral Tuesday for the 38 victims of a coach crash in Italy as the country mourned the dead in one of Europe's worst road accidents.

Flags flew at half-mast and shops stayed shut on a national day of mourning as investigators probed why the coach plunged off a viaduct near Naples on Sunday.

Prime Minister Enrico Letta joined bereaved relatives at a mass funeral in Pozzuoli, a southern Italian industrial town where most of the victims came from.

"We feel terrible. We all know each other here. We are all a bit like brothers and sisters," said one tearful mourner, Franco, who said he had lost a friend in the accident.

Relatives huddled around the flower-draped coffins laid out in a gym hall, surrounded by thousands of mourners and rescue workers who had been at the scene.

"Magistrates will have to clarify the causes of the accident and others will have to ensure this never happens again," the local bishop, Gennaro Pascarella, said in his homily at the mass.

"Political and religious institutions should not leave our brothers alone, especially those who have found themselves without any economic support," he said.

Prosecutors have launched an investigation into possible manslaughter over Sunday's accident, the worst such crash in western Europe in the last decade.

Hundreds of relatives had to spend agonising hours identifying victims on Monday close to the scene of the crash before the coffins were carried off.

Sobbing relatives clutched at the coffins or collapsed into the arms of Red Cross workers.

Officials had called out the names of each family from a list and the relatives put white masks over their mouths to enter the makeshift morgue.

The coach, carrying 48 people, rammed several cars after failing to brake on a bend, smashing through a crash barrier and plunging 30 metres (100 feet) down.

Some witnesses quoted by Italian media said the bus had been gaining speed and "losing pieces" up to a kilometre before the actual impact.

One survivor said she thought the bus had lost a wheel before the crash and that the driver had tried to brake by sliding along the guardrail.

Ten survivors are still being treated in hospital -- several with serious injuries -- and nine more people are being treated among those who were in the cars.

"We want to know what happened," said Annibale Spira, another mourner at the funeral.

"We should know because it's not the first time there has been an accident in that place," he said.

"We want to know why precautious were not taken."

Letta spoke of an "enormous tragedy" for Italy and President Giorgio Napolitano called for a "stronger engagement" to guarantee road safety in the country.

Rosario Cantelmo, the prosecutor overseeing the investigation, said: "We will do everything we can and we will ensure everyone gets justice".

Cantelmo said several people had been placed under investigation, but did not detail who or how many.

The group on the coach was returning from a pilgrimage to Pietrelcina in the Campania region, the birthplace of Padre Pio, an Italian priest canonised in 2002 and worshipped in the country's south.

While rescuers were quick to remove the shattered coach from the wooded area off the highway, passenger belongings streaked with blood -- including shoes, books and a torn teddy bear -- still lay strewn on the ground.

The area is known as an accident black spot.

The coach crash was the deadliest in western Europe in the last decade and the worst in Europe since an October 2010 accident in Ukraine when 45 people died.