Six teenagers have been killed when part of a truck raked through their school bus in a town on the country’s Atlantic coast, officials said.
The accident took place in the centre of the town of Rochefort in Charente-Maritime, at 7.15am local time (6.15 GMT)yesterday.
French media reported that part of a truck detached and sliced through the side of the bus, which was travelling from the Ile d’Oleron to Surgeres.
It comes one day after a bus crash in eastern France killed two children.
The circumstances of the early morning crash in Rochefort are now under investigation and the French minister of transport immediately headed to the scene. Eighteen adolescents were in the bus at the time, according to the French president’s office.
Rochefort mayor Herve Blanche confirmed that at least six children died.
“The word chaos is not strong enough. This is such a tragedy,” said Jerome Servolle, an UNSA police union official in the town. Mr Servolle said a gate-like object swung open on the truck, slicing through the school bus at window height.
Photos taken at the scene show the wreckage of the bus, with windows smashed all along the left side and severe damage to the back of the vehicle.
As well as the six school pupils killed in yesterday’s crash, two people have been taken to hospital, according to local authorities. They have set up an emergency number for concerned relatives to call.
According to regional news site Sud Ouest, the pupils on board were aged 16 to 18 and were travelling to school in Surgeres.
Both drivers have been taken in for questioning, it reports.
French President Francois Hollande tweeted about his emotion at hearing of the accident, and sent his condolences to the bereaved.
Emergency plans had been triggered and ministers Segolene Royal and Najat Vallaud-Belkacem were travelling to the scene, Mr Hollande’s office said.
Prosecutor Isabelle Pagenelle told French news site 20 Minutes the vehicle concerned was “a dump truck whose side gate opened – for a reason unknown to us at this time as technical investigations are under way – and clipped the side of the bus coming the other way.”
The children who were on that side of the bus died, she said.
Teenagers who were sitting on the other side of the bus walked uninjured from the incident, reports said.
A local councillor who visited the scene told France Bleu radio of the “horror” he saw.
“There was a huge number of ambulances and firefighters at the scene and there were many injured,” the councillor reported.
A woman working close to the scene described scenes of chaos.
“There are too many people around to see anything. People have stopped their cars to see what’s going on,” she said.
A boy aged 12 and a girl of 15 died on Wednesday when the driver lost control in snowy conditions near Montflovin in the department of Doubs.
The driver had been taking 33 children to school, and he and another six children were injured as the bus overturned.
An investigation into the cause of that crash has been opened, though a collision with another vehicle has been ruled out.