China bus crash kills 11 South Korean, Chinese children
Representational Image of a school bus Reuters

Eleven South Korean and Chinese kindergarteners and their driver have died after a school bus crashed and burst into flames in a tunnel in eastern China on Tuesday, officials said.

The local authorities said the children were aged between three and six. They all were students of a South Korean international school in the city of Weihai, Shandong province. Reports said a teacher was seriously injured in the accident.

The Weihai propaganda department said five of the young victims were South Korean and six were Chinese. However, a South Korean consular official in the eastern city of Qingdao told AFP that 10 of the children were South Korean, though five of them were dual Chinese nationals. According to the official, the children were aged four to seven.

Weihai authorities said the accident took place when the children were on their way to the Weihai Zhongshi South Korean International School at around 9 am.

The People's Daily posted an amateur video on Twitter showing cars driving away from the bus, which was stopped near a wall as flames reached the tunnel's ceiling. The video's authenticity could not be immediately verified.

The authorities said that the cause of the crash was still under investigation. Hwang Kyo-Ahn, the former South Korean acting president, voiced "grave sadness" over the tragedy, which occurred as the country went to the polls to elect a new president.

Hwang told the foreign ministry to mobilise "all diplomatic resources" to handle the accident. He has also asked the authorities to keep the parents of the young victims informed of any developments.

Road accidents are quite common in China as the traffic regulations are often flouted or go unenforced by police. The authorities said in December that there were more than 180,000 traffic accidents and 58,000 deaths in China 2015.

The country's frequently overcrowded long-distance buses are particularly prone to high fatalities. In March, 10 people were killed and 38 others were injured when a bus collided with a cement truck in the southwestern province of Yunnan.

Another accident took place in December after a minibus plunged into a lake in the central city of Wuhan killing at least 18 people. Last November, a pile-up on an expressway in the northern province of Shanxi killed 17 people and damaged 56 vehicles.