At least 45 dead in Bulgaria bus crash

Eight are women and 12 children on Turkish coach in country’s worst bus crash for almost 40 years

Emergency services are battling to control a fire at a car-bus blaze in south-east Bulgaria which killed at least 45 people, mostly children.

Two survivors of the deadly crash were listed in critical condition, an official at the country’s first aid unit, Gorana Pasnikova, said.

“The entire bus was consumed,” she said, adding that the deaths were of women and children aged between three and 12. “The burning bus was reduced to ashes, we were helpless as there was nothing we could do.”

Thirteen children were among the 45 people killed in the vehicle on Thursday, while six people were still in a life-threatening condition, Pasnikova said.

Firefighters had only managed to control the blaze two hours after it broke out on the Turkish coach in the village of Sarikovo, about 250km (150 miles) east of Sofia. Emergency services said the death toll was likely to increase.

The Bulgaria Metro daily reported that the driver of the bus had lost control, speeding off the road, and collided with a truck. Emergency services did not immediately confirm this.

The accident was the worst in Bulgaria for almost 40 years, Pasnikova said. Bulgaria recorded 47 deaths in a traffic accident in 2004.

Iveta Saricova, a doctor at a local hospital, told ITAR-TASS news agency the children were badly burned, most of them dead. “It was a painful scene for the hospital,” she said.

Valery Sotnikov, a doctor at Sarikovo’s local hospital, said four children had been airlifted to Shkoder in northern Bulgaria, another hospital in Shkoder said a child had been delivered in the vehicle’s wreckage but survived.

The head of Bulgaria’s GSP highway police, Pal Gyori, said police were continuing to hunt for other survivors. Bulgaria’s transport ministry said an initial investigation indicated the cause of the crash was a tyre blowout.

The blast tore through the Turkish coach in a fiery wreck just as it was passing from the Bulgarian side of the border to the Turkish one, more than a kilometre from its original stop, officials said.

“The bus was practically in flames,” witness Martin Stefanov, who had been on a nearby highway at the time, told the Vecernet news agency. “After a few seconds, a huge explosion ripped through the bus, completely destroying it. People were thrown from the bus.”

The bus driver and a passenger were in a stable condition, government officials said.

Sarikovo is a small Bulgarian border town with fewer than 100 residents and an average of 200 vehicles passing daily. It is about 25km (15 miles) east of the nearby border crossing with Turkey.

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