Bulgaria: One year after the deadly disaster in Hitrino

Written by on December 10, 2017 in Bulgaria - Comments Off on Bulgaria: One year after the deadly disaster in Hitrino

The inferno came without warning, in the early morning. On December 10, 2016, one year ago today, a freight train entered Hitrino, a small town in North-Eastern Bulgaria. Since the train was speeding, it did not make the curve near the train station. The train derailed.

Had this been a normal freight train, not that much would have happened. But this one pulled several waggons with gas tanks fixed to them. All but one of those exploded.

The fire was everywhere. It engulfed the station itself, and several buildings including private houses. Some of them were destroyed completely. Without exaggeration, part of Hitrino looked like a war zone.

Seven people died in Hitrino. As many as 29 were injured.

After the terrible blast, which was part of this second-worst train accident in recent Bulgarian history, something happened: All of Bulgaria, the entire country, wanted to help the injured, the families of the victims and the town, inhabited by mostly very poor Bulgarian Muslims. The helpfulness demonstrated by countless Bulgarians was unprecedented.

Bulgarian expatriates in London started collecting money for Hitrino. The same applied to British expats in Veliko Tarnovo and elsewhere. Both the Muslim and Jewish communities in Sofia started fund-raising campaigns too.

The Bulgarian Red Cross collected a lot. So did the Bulgarian Construction Chamber, the Chamber of Architects and the Union of Architects. Of course the government and the European Commission allocated funds too.

After the blast in Hitrino, it took weeks to get rid of the gas tanks, at least one of which could still have exploded at any moment. During the first days after the inferno, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, who is a former firefighter, commanded the operation.

During the one year since the explosion destroyed part of Hitrino, the locomotive drivers went on trial. Court action was also launched against Bulmarket, the company which owned the train.

Also, there were a lot of arguments and discussions. In June, the party ‘Movement for Rights and Freedoms’ expelled the mayor of Hitrino over what it called the slow recovery of the blast-hit town.

One year after the inferno of Hitrino, 10 of the 24 destroyed buildings are repaired. Some families will soon move into their new homes. A lot of work is left though.

While the helpulness for the victims and families of Hitrino was exemplary, there was one aspect some did not understand: Refugees from Syria who entered Bulgaria during the same time period, a year ago, some of whom froze to death on Bulgarian soil last winter, were mostly not treated well at all. One year after Hitrino, the question remains why some people in a very difficult situation seem to have mattered more than others, whose situation was hardly better.

The worst Bulgarian train accident in recent times happened on February 28, 2008. Back then, nine passengers died in a burning sleeper coach, the doors of which were locked. This disaster occurred close to the town of Cherven Bryag.

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