Bus crash and fire break out in Bulgaria; At least 45 dead

Bus crash and fire break out in Bulgaria;  At least 45 dead

Sophia A bus carrying tourists returning to North Macedonia crashed and caught fire in western Bulgaria early Tuesday, killing at least 45 people, including 12 children, authorities said.

The bus apparently breached a protective barrier on a highway, though authorities said the cause was still being investigated. Pictures taken shortly after the accident showed the car set ablaze with plumes of thick black smoke. Daylight revealed a burnt shell with all its windows smashed, sitting in the middle. Part of the guardrail was ripped off and dumped on the road.

Seven people were taken to hospitals for treatment after the accident, which occurred while a group of buses were returning from a trip to Turkey.

Bulgarian Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov told reporters at the crash site that he had “never seen anything more terrifying in my life.”

Rachkov said: “The picture is terrifying, the people who were in the bus turned to coal. It is impossible to determine how many. There were four buses that traveled together, and it is possible that passengers changed buses during the stop.”

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The Prosecutor of North Macedonia, Lyubomir Jovsky, who also visited the site of the accident, confirmed the killing of 12 children.

The country’s prime minister, Zoran Zeev, also traveled to Bulgaria, where he visited survivors in hospital. He told Bulgarian broadcaster BTV that someone said he was awakened by an explosion.

His government observed a minute’s silence on Tuesday and declared three days of national mourning in the country of nearly two million people. Authorities said flags will be reduced to half staff, and all public events will be cancelled.

The country’s media reported that police were outside the offices of a travel company in the capital, Skopje, believed to have organized the trip.

Borislav Sarafov, head of the Bulgarian National Investigation Service, told reporters near the crash site that victims and eyewitnesses were being questioned.

In 2019, Bulgaria had the second-highest road fatality rate in the 27-nation European Union, with 89 people killed per million, according to European Commission data.

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“Let’s hope that we can learn lessons from this tragic accident and can prevent such accidents in the future,” said Bulgarian interim Prime Minister Stefan Yaniv, who visited the crash site.

Albanian Foreign Minister Ulta Shaka wrote online that nearly all of those who died were ethnic Albanians – but it was not clear if they were also residents or citizens of North Macedonia, which has a large ethnic Albanian population.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expressed her condolences to the families and friends of those who died and said that “in these difficult times, Europe stands in solidarity with you.”

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This story has been updated to correct the spelling of the North Macedonia Prosecutor’s last name. It’s Joveski, not Jovevski.

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McGrath reported from Bucharest, Romania. Konstantin Testoridis contributed in Skopje, North Macedonia.

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