SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) A bus carrying Northern Macedonians home from a tourist trip to Istanbul collided and caught fire in western Bulgaria early Tuesday, killing at least 45 people, local authorities and media said.
The accident happened around 02:00 and there are children among the victims, authorities said. Seven people were taken to hospital for treatment.
The cause of the collision was not immediately confirmed, but it appeared that the bus hit a highway guard rail, collided and caught fire.
The bus was one of four traveling together. Officials said an investigation would be launched.
Photos taken shortly after the crash showed the bus engulfed in flames of dense, black plumes of smoke coming from the scene.
Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov told reporters at the crash site that he “had never seen anything more terrible in my life.”
“The picture is horrible, the people on the bus have turned to coal,” Rashkov said. “It is not possible to say how many there were. There were four buses that traveled together and it is possible that passengers changed buses during stops.”
Interim Bulgarian Prime Minister Stefan Yanev, who also visited the crash site, told reporters it was “a great tragedy”.
“I take this opportunity to send my condolences to the relatives of the victims,” Yanev said. “Let us hope we learn from this tragic incident and we can prevent such incidents in the future.”
The Bulgarian news agency Novinite reported that representatives from the northern Macedonian embassy visited a hospital where some of the victims were taken.
The Prime Minister of Northern Macedonia Zoran Zaev told the Bulgarian television channel bTV that he had spoken to one of the survivors of the bus.
“One of the passengers told me he was asleep and woke up to an explosion,” Zaev told bTV, adding that authorities would gather information that was “important to the families of the dead and survivors.”
In 2019, Bulgaria, an EU country of 7 million people, had the second highest road mortality rate in the 27-nation bloc with 89 people killed per million people, according to European Commission data.
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