At least 45 people were killed late Friday when a passenger bus heading from Guatemala to El Salvador overturned and fell into a ravine in nighttime conditions, officials and media reports said.
At least 15 other people were initially reported injured. But according to unconfirmed reports two of them had already died in local hospitals, and the exact number of survivors remains unknown.
Guatemalan Vice President Rafael Espada rushed to a hospital in the outskirts of the capital to give moral support to some of the victims and their families.
"We are confronting a tragedy," Espada told reporters gathered at the hospital. "People come here from the site of the accident with multiple bone fractures. The medical personnel are trying to make miracles, but they need all of our moral and administrative support."
The reports quoted witnesses as saying speeding and malfunctioning brakes were the probable causes of the accident.
They said the bus overturned at about 11.15pm GMT when the driver, making his way down the road in darkness, failed to make a sharp turn and sent the bus into a 50-metre deep ravine.
At least 300 people – soldiers, police officers, firefighters and volunteers – braved cold weather and darkness to take part in a massive rescue and recovery operation, rescue officials pointed out.
Mynor Rodas, a spokesman for volunteer firefighters in the region, said the section of the highway about 33 kilometres from Guatemala City is known for its high rate of accidents and claimed the lives of three other travelers in recent days.
"The road in this place is wide, which invites drivers to step on the accelerator," Rodas said. "But there is a sharp curve ahead, where some lose control of their vehicles and end up in the ravine."
The bus belonged to Cubanita transportation company. Its final destination point was the Salvadoran border town of Jutiapa.
A mainly agricultural Central American nation, Guatemala has a population of 13.3 million people. More than half of Guatemalans are descendants of indigenous Mayan peoples. (AFP)
At least 45 dead in Guatemalan bus accident