A pair of four-year-old twins are among 12 children killed in the blaze that engulfed a bus after it crashed on a Bulgarian motorway.
Twelve children and 30 adult passengers burned alive inside the bus.
The fire was so intense many of its victims were burned beyond recognition, with forensics teams sent to try to identify the bodies.
The bus was travelling along the Struma motorway, in South-West Bulgaria, on its way from Istanbul to North Macedonia’s capital of Skopje when it crashed.
The ensuing fire resulted in the death of 46 passengers, around 2am this morning.
Among the victims were the four-year-old twins, Luan Ahmeti and Alban Ahmeti and their mum and dad, Avni Ahmeti and Jihan Ahmeti, all from Albania.
Gazmend Ukali, 27, and his fiancee Albina Belluli, 23, also died in the fire. They were returning from Istanbul after celebrating Gazmend’s birthday in the historic city.
The bus entered Bulgaria around 9.00 pm last night at the “Kapitan Andreevo” border crossing and it burst into flames several hours later for reasons that are currently not known.
The head of the fire safety department at the interior ministry, Nikolai Nikolov, told private 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 by Bulgarian media that the flames erupted after the vehicle hit a guardrail, but officials have not confirmed this.
Zoran Zaev, The Prime Minister of Northern Macedonia, released a statement about the incident after arriving in Bulgaria to visit the survivors.
Zaev said there were only seven survivors who managed to get out of the bus by smashing the windows.
The youngest survivor is just 15 years old.
He added that the “tragedy is great”, as the majority of the victims were aged between 25 and 30, while 12 of them were children.
The oldest passenger to die in the fire was an unidentified 63-year-old.
The survivors have been taken to the Pirogov Hospital in Sofia, where Zaev plans to meet with them later on in the day.
Many of them have suffered burns to their faces and hands, and their upper airways have been damaged, said Professor Maja Argirova, who is the head of the burns clinic in Pirogov.
Argirova added: “People are in severe trauma, they have lost relatives, children. They jumped from the windows of the bus, so they got injured.”
Minister Rashkov, the Bulgarian Interior Minister, told local media: “I have never seen such horror.”
Borislav Sarafov, Deputy Prosecutor General, described it as a “human tragedy unknown in its magnitude.”
He added that most of the passengers are believed to have been from North Macedonia.
Stanislav Vladimirov, the mayor of the western Bulgarian town of Pernik, said: “The reasons for the accident can be many, the driver may have fallen asleep, and there may be another reason.
“It has been raining since yesterday, and this section is one of the most difficult in our country.”
The investigation into the cause of the crash is ongoing as is the process of identifying the bodies.