At least 45 people burned to death Wednesday when the fuel tank on the bus they were riding on caught fire after the vehicle hit a culvert in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, officials said.

The incident occurred in the early morning hours in the Mahabubnagar district when the bus, which was en route from Hyderabad to Bangalore, was traveling at high speed, police spokesmen told the IANS news agency.

Just seven people on board the bus, including the driver and his assistant, managed to escape the inferno and five of them remain in the hospital, tax collector Girija Shankar said.

The residents of a town near the accident site told IANS that the bus was completely destroyed by the fire in a matter of minutes.

The majority of the passengers on board the bus were sleeping at the time of the crash and were returning to their homes after celebrating the Hindu religious festival of Diwali.

Some 125,000 people die in India each year in traffic accidents, and it is the country that has the greatest number of road fatalities, the World Health Organization said in a 2011 report.

The accidents in India are caused or contributed to, in the majority of cases, by poor driving, the bad condition of vehicles and roadways and lack of proper signage.

In mid-October, 20 people, most of them women, died when the truck they were riding in flipped over while they were returning from a religious pilgrimage in central India. EFE