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November 23 is marked by double tragedy in Bulgaria

Photo: BGNES

November 23 is a grim day for Bulgaria. The country woke up to the news of a flaming bus crash on Struma motorway in which 46 Macedonian citizens lost their lives. Several hours earlier another tragedy struck – nine people were killed in a fire at a nursing home in Royak village from smoke inhalation.

Here is what we know about the unprecedented tragedy on the roads of Bulgaria thus far:

46 people died when a passenger bus with North Macedonian plates travelling from Turkey to North Macedonia crashed and caught fire shortly before 3 am on 23 November. 11 of the casualties are children. 7 passengers survived and were taken to Pirogov Hospital for Emergency Medicine with non-life threatening injuries. They were able to leap from the vehicle after breaking a window in the rear end of the bus. 52 people, citizens of North Macedonia, and one Belgian citizen were travelling on board the bus. Most victims are residents of Skopje. Many young people, including 11 children, are among the victims.

Caretaker Prime Minister Stefan Yanev and Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov describe what they saw as terrifying.

“The picture is terrifying,” Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov said from the scene of the tragedy. “The incident will be clarified in detail in the course of the investigation. You do not want to see what is there. I would say, from my experience, that I have never seen anything like it. The people are in a bundle, charred, and no one can say at the moment how many there are, or who they are. They have to be identified from now on, which is very difficult, to be established person by person. Only then can we say how many there are.”

This is the worst road accident to have ever occurred in Bulgaria, with the biggest loss of life. The bus was travelling together with three other buses of the same Macedonian travel company, and was last in the motorcade. The first three buses crossed into North Macedonia at Gyueshevo border checkpoint at around 5 am this morning. The investigation has to establish the precise causes of the tragedy.

“The identities will be established with the help of DNA analysis, if need be we shall ask for international help from the respective judicial authorities in the Republic of North Macedonia,” Borislav Sarafov, head of the National Investigation Service said for the BNR. “It doesn’t always take a lot of time. We have very good relations with the Republic of North Macedonia and I think that the process will be much quicker than is customary. All the more so that I believe the judicial authorities in North Macedonia will cooperate with us in full measure.”

Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who arrived in Bulgaria urgently stated he had talked to one of the survivors, who had told him there had been an explosion in the bus. Zaev paid a visit to Pirogov emergency hospital in Sofia where he talked to the surviving seven bus passengers. “None of them have sustained any life-threatening injuries,” Pirogov director Prof. Dr. Ivan Poromanski announced. He added that they are to have their wounds treated, some of the burns, which are comparatively minor, are to be covered, minor surgery may need to be performed by traumatologists. “The patients are being fully taken care of, as with every citizen of Bulgaria,” he pointed out. In his words, at the discretion of the attending physicians, the Macedonian citizens may be transported to their country.

Tragedies are what make us human and compassionate, regardless of the nationality of those who are no longer with us, Bulgaria’s caretaker Primier Stefan Yanev said at a joint press conference with the Prime Minister of the Republic of North Macedonia’s Zoran Zaev, which took place at the Council of Ministers building.

„November 23 has been marked by two serious tragedies in Bulgaria“- Bulgaria’s caretaker Premier Stefan Yanev said referring to last night’s accident in the village of Royak, where nine reisdents of a nursing home died in a fire. – Unfortunately, less than 7 or 8 hours later a new tragedy occured. A passenger bus with North Macedonian registration plates, crashed on Struma motorway, claiming the lives of more than 40 people. The passengers onboard were nationals of the Republic of North Macedonia and other countries. These are common tragedies. They touch us and make us show compassion to those who are not with us anymore, regardless of their nationality. The only thing we can do in this moment is to show compassion to the relatives of the victims and offer condelences to the families of the deceased. Meanwhile, Bulgaria and its competent authorities which investigate such types of accidents and deal with disaster management are working promptly at Struma motorway and in Dalgopol Municipality to identify opportuinities for additional assistance to the survivors from the nursing home.

The Premiers of Bulgaria and North Macedonia have been coordinating their actions since the early hours on November 23, Premier Yanev said: „I hope that we will learn those lessons during the investigation that will help us avoid similar accidents in the future“

The Premier of North Macedonia expressed sympathy for the loss of the two nations and thanked the Bularian experts.

„Premier Stefan Yanev and President Radev informed me about the accident 5 or 10 minutes after it occured. I took North Macedonia’s Minister of Health and this counry’s Minister of Foreign Affairs with me to Sofia to visit the survivors who were accomodated at the hospital, meet with Bulgaria’s leadesrhip and learn all details surrounding the tragic accident. We are cooperating at a very high-level“, Zoran Zaev confirmed. He announced that the passengers at the rear side of the bus managed to break the windows and survive. The bus is ownwed by Besa Trans company registered in the village of Rašče, Saraj Municipality. The company covers bus services from Skopje to Istanbul on a regular basis. “I do not know whether the bus was in a good technical condition. Experts and investigators will answer this question“, Zoran Zaev told the media.

He was asked whether the recent tragedy would affect the relations between Bulgaria and North Macedonia:

„The two countries stand together in good and bad times. We are brotherly nations. We must always help each other in good or bad moments. Yes, this tragedy will have a positive effect on our bilateral relations, because we must help each other. All institutions are working in close cooperation in the interest of the people on both sides of the border“, Premier Zaev wento on to say.

A day of national mouring is expected to be declared in Bulgaria and North Macedonia.

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