At least 45 people have died, including children, and seven more have been injured after a bus caught fire following a crash in the early hours of this morning.
Senior officials from Bulgaria’s interior ministry have confirmed that tragically several children were among those killed.
Nikolai Nikolov, the head of the fire safety department at the interior ministry, also confirmed that seven living victims with serious burns were rushed to a hospital in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital.
The seven reportedly jumped from the bus.
He told BTV television: “At least 45 people were killed after a bus caught fire and crashed, or crashed and then caught fire.”
It has been reported that at least 12 of the victims were children.
The accident occurred at around 2:00 am today (November 23) local time, close to the city of Pernik in the west of the country, after the bus collided with a roadside barrier.
The bus itself had number plates from neighbouring North Macedonia and an official from the North Macedonian embassy in Sofia confirmed that most of the victims were from the country.
Bulgarian investigative service chief Borislav Sarafov explained that the cause of the crash hasn’t been confirmed.
He said: “Human mistake by the driver or a technical malfunction are the two initial versions for the accident.”
Of the seven who survived, six were adults and one was a 17-year-old girl. Six are being treated for burns and one for a leg injury.
The hospital has confirmed that they are not in life-threatening conditions.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Stefan Yanev has been in dialogue with Zoran Zaev, his North Macedonian counterpart.
Zaev also confirmed that children were among the victims. The driver of the bus has been confirmed to be among the deceased too.
He added: “The causes of the incident are being investigated. We do not know if all the passengers are our citizens, but we suspect so, as the bus has a Macedonian registration.
“I thank the Bulgarian authorities, who are doing everything to protect the lives of the survivors.
“We will be very grateful for the investigation of this tragedy.”
He also expressed his condolences to the relatives of the victims.
Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov said: “People are clustered inside and are burnt to ash.
“The picture is terrifying, terrifying. I have never seen anything like that before.”
It is thought that the bus had departed from Istanbul, Turkey, and entered Bulgaria at 9 pm yesterday.
North Macedonian Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani said the people onboard were returning home after a weekend holiday trip to Turkey.
The site of the crash has been sealed off and traffic is being diverted.