As mayor Vincenzo Figliolia declared three days of mourning, he said the tragedy had “struck the entire community”.
Although the names of those who died are yet to be officially announced, many people living in Pozzuoli, near Naples, were either related to, or knew the victims. Police said 38 people died, although Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi had earlier put the figure at 39.
Maria di Maio, who runs a grocery shop in the town, told The Local that she knew two sisters who were passengers on the bus, which had been making its way back from a pilgrimage to Pietrelcina, with 48 people on board, when it careered off the road and plunged 30 feet down a slope.
“They were the sisters of someone who used to work for me,” she told The Local.
“Many people who have come into the shop this morning knew someone on the bus. The town is very sad."
The precise cause of the accident is unknown, but the bus is reported to have been travelling at high speed along a busy dual carriageway in an area described by the Italian media as an accident black spot. The driver was among the dead.
"There’s been some talk in the town about the bus having problems with its brakes,” added Di Maio.
A worker at a restaurant in Pozzuoli, who asked not to be named, said the community was in shock on Monday morning. He declined to say anything more.
The pilgrims had been returning from a trip to the birth place of Saint Po, an Italian priest canonised in 2002 who is highly venerated in southern Italy.
La Stampa reported that the trip had been organised by Luciano Caiazzo, a butcher. He had just turned 40 and died in the accident.
“We organized a surprise party,” Anna Caiazzo, a relative, told the newspaper.
“He loved to organize trips. In 10 days time, we were planning on going to Croatia, all together, as always.”
The bodies of the victims have been placed in a gymnasium at a school in Monteforte Irpino. A relative of one of the victims, who died in an ambulance on the way to hospital, told La Stampa. “I heard from my sister at 8.30 last night. She was happy, she was calm. We hoped, until the end, that she would be alive.”
Mayor Figliolia also visited the school on Monday morning.