North Macedonia Mourns Dozens Killed In Bus Crash
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) – Flags are flying at half-mast in the young nation of North Macedonia after a bus accident in neighboring Bulgaria killed dozens of people.
The bus carrying North Macedonian tourists crashed in flames on a highway in western Bulgaria early Tuesday, killing at least 46 people, including 12 children, officials said.
“This is a huge tragedy,” North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told reporters in Sofia and expressed his condolences to relatives of the victims.
Investigators were still looking into why a long-weekend coach excursion to Istanbul, Turkey, turned into tragedy before daybreak.
Officials said, however, that the bus appeared to have hit a highway barrier before or after it caught fire on the Struma highway 19 miles (30 kilometers) west of Sofia, the capital.
Seven people who leaped from the burning bus were rushed to Sofia’s Pirogov emergency hospital and were in stable condition, according to hospital staff.
A Belgian citizen was among the injured survivors who mainly suffered burns, and one had a broken leg, Worthy News learned. Zaev also said most passengers were from North Macedonia but appeared to include a Serbian citizen and a Belgian person.
Almost all of those who died were citizens of North Macedonia, a Balkan nation with roughly two million people.
North Macedonia’s government declared three days of national mourning as it was one of the country’s worst transport accidents in nearly two decades.
The tragedy also added concerns about road safety and the quality of transport in the mainly impoverished Balkans.
The bus was one of several operated by Besa Trans, a travel agency based in the capital, Skopje.
It offers regular long-weekend trips to Istanbul, particularly popular with members of North Macedonia’s significant ethnic Albanian minority.
Reporters saw relatives looking for answers at the Besa Trans office in Skopje’s Old Bazaar, facing locked doors locked and police guarding the entrance.
The firm said in a statement it was “not able to respond to requests for information because we are in a state of shock.”
It said the company was cooperating with officials in North Macedonia and Bulgaria.
In front of the Ismail Qemali elementary school in Skopje, pupils cried after hearing the news that five of their schoolmates, all from one family, had been killed.
“Ergin was my friend. He was a very good boy. Very nice. I am so sorry that they died,” Blerim Bushi, 11, said.
In Sofia, Adnan Yasharovski, 45, said his 16-year-old daughter Zuleikha called him to say she had survived the crash, and he traveled to see her in hospital.
“She was crying. Her hands were burnt but otherwise fine,” he told Reuters news agency outside the hospital. “She didn’t say much, she was crying, and she was in shock. I only saw her through the door as due to COVID, they did not let me into the room.”
There was little in North Macedonia’s history since its 1991 declaration of independence to compare to the scale of Tuesday’s disaster.
However, 15 people died in a commuter bus crash near Skopje two years ago.
Earlier in September this year, 14 people died in a fire at a hospital in the North Macedonian town of Tetovo.
Two planes that crashed in 1993 were the last transport-related severe incidents.
Since then, only the 2001 insurgency by the Albanian National Liberation Army caused a more significant loss of life than the bus crash and fire.