At least 45 people have been killed in western Bulgaria when a bus crashed and caught fire on a motorway in the early hours of Tuesday morning.Children were among the victims and seven people with burns were rushed to hospital in the capital Sofia, the head of the fire safety department at the interior ministry said.
The bus had North Macedonian number plates and is believed to have crashed into a guard rail around 2am.
The bus was one of four travelling together and is thought to have travelling from North Macedonia to Turkey.
North Macedonia’s chief prosecutor, Lubomir Jovevski, who visited the scene of the accident, said that 12 children were confirmed among the dead.
An investigation has been launched but the cause of the crash is currently unknown.
Albanian Foreign Minister Olta Xhacka wrote online that almost all of those who died in the crash were ethnic Albanians.
Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov told reporters at the crash site that he had “never in my life seen something more horrifying.”
Bulgarian news agency Novinite says representatives from Macedonia’s embassy visited a hospital where some of the victims were taken.
Caretaker Prime Minister Stefan Yanev visited the site of the crash and told reporters it was “a huge tragedy.”
“I take this opportunity to send my condolences to the relatives of the victims,” Yanev said. “Let’s hope we learn lessons from this tragic incident and we can prevent such incidents in the future.”
Media in North Macedonia reported that police were outside the Skopje offices of a travel company that is believed to have organised the trip to Turkey.
North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told Bulgarian television channel bTV he had spoken to one of the bus survivors.
“One of the passengers told me that he was asleep and woke up from an explosion,” Zaev told bTV, adding the authorities will gather information that is “important for the families of the dead and the survivors.”
Oliver Varhelyi, a European Union Commissioner, sent his condolences to the families and friends of those affected by the crash.
“Terrible news about the tragic bus accident in Bulgaria in early morning hours,” Varhelyi wrote online. “My thoughts & condolences are with the families and friends of those who died as well as with the people and the authorities of North Macedonia.”
In 2019, Bulgaria, an EU nation of seven million, had the second-highest road fatality rate in the 27-nation bloc with 89 people killed per million population, according to European Commission data.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expressed her condolences to the families and friends of those who died in the “tragic bus accident” and said that “in these terrible times, Europe stands in solidarity with you.”