At least 45 people died when a bus caught fire and crashed into a highway in western Bulgaria on Tuesday, officials said.
The bus had North Macedonian plates, according to the Bulgarian Interior Ministry, and local media reported that most of the victims were from that country.
Nikolai Nikolov, head of the fire safety service at the Bulgarian Interior Ministry, told BTV that 52 people were traveling on the bus when it crashed around 2 a.m. local time. BTV said the accident happened on the Struma highway near the village of Bosnek as the bus was traveling from Bulgaria’s capital Sofia to Blagoevgrad in the southwest of the country.
“At least 45 people were killed after a bus caught fire and crashed, or crashed and then caught fire,” Nikolov said, quoted by Reuters. He added that children were among the victims.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia, Bujar Osmani, tell BTV that the bus had made a trip to Istanbul over the weekend.
Seven people with burns and lacerations were taken to Pirogov Hospital in Sofia, Maya Argirova, head of the burn clinic there, told reporters.
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev of North Macedonia visited the hospital on Tuesday and spoke with some of the survivors.
“It is a terrible tragedy because many of them are children,” he said, adding that he had spoken to an individual who had managed to smash one of the vehicle’s windows and help several people to escape. “Unfortunately, the others were less fortunate,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Pirogov hospital confirmed that seven people involved in the accident were being treated there. They were in stable condition, she said via text message.
Further details were not immediately available.
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Svetlan Stoev and Mr. Osmani of North Macedonia spoke by telephone on Tuesday, according to a Press release published on the website of the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Mr. Osmani was on his way to Pirogov Hospital, where he would meet Mr. Stoev, the statement said.
On Twitter, M. Stoev posted that Bulgaria would do everything to treat the victims and find the cause of the “tragedy”.
Stefan Yanev, Bulgarian Acting Prime Minister, visited the crash site. “This news shook us,” he told reporters, adding that his government was working quickly to investigate what had happened.
In 2018, a tourist bus carrying 33 pilgrims from a village north of the capital to a crashed monastery near Sofia, killing at least 16 people and injuring 26 others.
Boryana Djambazova contributed reports.