ATWATER, Calif. -- A charter bus veered off a central California highway before dawn Tuesday and struck a pole that sliced the vehicle nearly in half, killing five people and sending five more to hospitals, some with lost limbs, authorities said.
Rescuers pulled out "bags of body parts" from the survivors of the crash on State Route 99, where the speeding bus hit the pole of a highway exit sign head-on, Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said. It sheared straight through bus, stopping at the first rear axle "with a great impact," he said.
Emergency workers climbed in through the windows to pull out passengers. Five people were killed and at least five others were airlifted to hospitals, California Highway Patrol Officer Moises Onsurez said.
He did not have information about any additional injuries or the cause of the single-vehicle crash.
"The pole went through the center of the bus, and that's where the injuries were sustained," Onsurez said.
The still-intact sign stuck out from the roof of the crumpled bus. Wreckage and debris including seat cushions, drink containers, pillows and a blanket were scattered in lanes and on the shoulder of the highway a few miles south of Livingston.
The bus operated by Autobuses Coordinados USA was heading to Washington state and was due in Livingston at 1:30 a.m. to change drivers, Warnke said.
The highway runs through farm fields and almond orchards in the San Joaquin Valley northwest of Fresno.
The northbound lanes of the freeway were closed during the investigation, backing up traffic for miles. The CHP urged motorists to find alternate routes.
Associated Press writer Christopher Weber contributed from Los Angeles.