At least 17 people have been killed following a pile-up that involved 56 vehicles on a Chinese motorway.

The incident took place on Monday (21 November) on the Beijing-Kunming highway in Shanxi province, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency. Snow and rain are thought to have caused the accident on the major expressway.

"The fog was heavy, so I drove slowly when I exit the tunnel," one driver who witnessed the carnage told state-run CCTV. "I saw two vehicles horizontally blocking the road, so I stepped on the brake.

"I had already pulled over, but the vehicles behind caught up right behind," he added.

Images from the scene showed lorries strewn across the road – some of them overturned, as well as cars which were reduced to nothing more than wreckage. Thirty-seven people were injured in the disaster, but are reportedly in stable condition after receiving treatment, local authorities said on Tuesday (22 November).

Local police, firefighters, doctors and government officials were involved in the rescue operation. "While some of us manned the hoses, a chief officer led the rescue efforts of trapped personnel nearby," said firefighter Wang Ruobing.

"Others checked around to make sure there was no hidden fire and tried to locate others [who were] trapped," he added.

According to estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO), around 260,000 people die in road accidents in China each year. In 2013, there were 1.25 million road traffic deaths globally.

Earlier this month, four people were killed and 40 others were wounded in multiple pile-ups incidents along a Shanghai expressway due to foggy weather.