A school bus packed with high school students smashed through a guardrail along an Interstate 565 overpass this morning and crashed nose-first 30 feet below, killing three teenage girls and injuring at least 30 other people, some critically, authorities said.
As of Tuesdsay morning, 14 students and the bus driver are still in Huntsville Hospital receiving treatment.
Authorities identified the dead as Christina Collier, 16, Nicole Ford, 17, and Tanesha Hill.
A Toyota Celica driven by a 17-year-old Lee High School student was the other vehicle involved in the accident, and investigators had spoken with the car's driver as well as the passenger in the car. Neither have been charged and were released after questioning, said to Huntsville Police Chief Rex Reynolds late Monday night.
Students on the bus, which had no seat belts, were screaming when rescue workers arrived. "They were thrown all over the bus," said Huntsville Fire Chief Dusty Underwood. Some had to be pulled from the crushed front of the vehicle.
Two teenage girls died at the scene, and a third died at a hospital, police said.
"This is a heartbreaking tragedy," Gov. Bob Riley said in a statement.
Frantic parents went to the scene, where some students sat dazed or lay draped in white sheets, or went to the hospital to find their children.
Hospital officials said staff members had trouble identifying some of the more severely injured students who were unable to talk and had no identification on them.
Before help arrived, terrified students tried to climb from the wreckage.
"They were falling on each other. People were screaming, yelling, crying," said LaWanda Jefferson, 16, whose left arm was fractured and face was bruised. "I was scared, panicking and just getting ready to cry."
Some children called their relatives from cell phones shortly after the bus hit the ground, Jefferson among them.
"All I could hear was screaming in my ears," her grandmother, Doris Harris, said. "Screaming and crying and her saying something about the bus."
The bus was taking students from Huntsville's Lee High School to the Center for Technology, where students can receive special science and math credits.
Two students were still in the operating room and two others were in critical condition, hospital officials said at an early afternoon news conference.
The bus driver was in critical condition, authorities said, though the police chief said hospital personnel were able to speak with the driver.
The damaged car was still at the crash site Monday afternoon.
Jefferson told the AP that before the crash, the passengers had been talking, joking and laughing. Then she saw a red car speed by to the right, and suddenly she was flying across the bus, she said.
"The bus went to the side, and I guess it went over," she said. "When it was falling ... I was just glad when it hit the ground."
She said that if there had been seat belts on the bus, "most folks would not have gotten injured like this."