SHERMAN, Texas - A charter bus carrying a Vietnamese Catholic group to an annual pilgrimage in Missouri slammed onto its side and then skidded off a freeway early Friday, killing at least 13 people and injuring more than 40, authorities said.
The bus smashed into a guard rail about 12:45 a.m. on a bridge that's about 15 feet above a creek, apparently skidding along the guard rail before sliding off U.S. 75 at the far end of the bridge.
The bus came to a rest on its right side, partly on the northbound lane of the freeway and partly on the grass. The right front tire had blown out, but the cause of the wreck was under investigation.
The bus was carrying 55 people from Houston toCarthage. Sixteen of the survivors were reported in critical condition.
Ten people were airlifted and the rest of the passengers were taken to hospitals by ambulance, many with serious injuries, said Fire Chief Jeff Jones.
"I saw crushing wounds, but there were very few walking wounded," he said.
Workers were cleaning debris and gathering personal effects, including a blood-soaked pillow, a lone sandal, luggage and scattered pieces of clothing. Workers righted the bus early Friday - revealing a crumpled right side - and loaded it onto a large flatbed truck.
Blood spots remained on the grass, near where authorities had lined up six white body bags shortly after the wreck.
"Please pray for us," said Holly Nguyen, a 38-year-old church member who was following behind the bus in a car but didn't see the wreck. She was anxiously awaiting word on her father, who was on the bus.
The identities and ages of the crash victims weren't immediately available, but Sherman police Lt. Steve Ayers said children had been among the passengers.
It was the deadliest bus crash since 2004, when 15 people were killed on a bus that crashed in eastern Arkansas as it headed to Mississippi casinos. In 2005 near Dallas, 23 people were killed in a series of explosions on a bus carrying nursing home residents away from Hurricane Rita.
A Galveston/Houston archdiocese church official said many of those on the bus Friday were from the Vietnamese Martyrs Church of Houston and were on their way to a religious festival honoring the Virgin Mary in Carthage.
Mary Nguyen, a member of the church for more than 10 years, was at the church because she wanted to be near other parishioners after learning early Friday that a close friend had died. She said she had planned to meet her friend Thursday night but the friend had canceled because of the trip.
Mary Nguyen began sobbing as she described a dream Thursday night that kept waking her up, in which she was on a trip with the friend, then opened a suitcase and saw dead bodies.
"I feel so sorry because she's dead. ... She was just a very good person," she said. "The church is like one big family here. We're very close. We stick together."
Ayers said investigators have interviewed the bus driver, who was in stable condition. Roads were dry at the time of the wreck.
National Transportation Safety Board investigators were on the scene. The probe could take 12 to 18 months.
Authorities say 12 people died at the scene. Officials at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas said one person died at the hospital. Jones had said a 14th person also died in a hospital, but Sherman police Lt. Robert Fair said later Friday that it was a miscommunication and 13 had died.
The injured were rushed to several hospitals.
Dat Nguyen of Dallas has an aunt and an uncle hospitalized in the accident but said he has no idea where four other relatives are.
"I feel terrible," said Nguyen, whose eyes were glazed as he answered questions in the emergency room in Sherman. "I can't put into words."
The Marian Days pilgrimage, which started in the late 1970s in southwest Missouri, attracts thousands of Catholics of Vietnamese descent each year. Many attend a large outdoor Mass each day while enjoying entertainment and camping throughout the city at night.
Sherman is about 65 miles north of Dallas. The wreck happened less than a mile from the spot where a trucker crossed the median and slammed into two vehicles, killing 10 people in 2004.
Associated Press writers Anabelle Garay, Regina L. Burns, Jamie Stengle, Danny Robbins, Angela K. Brown and Monica Rhor contributed to this report.