ASTANA (TCA) — At least 52 people have been killed in a fire that broke out on a bus in Kazakhstan’s northwestern Aqtobe region, RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service reports.
Aqtilek Kenes, the head of the regional Emergency Situations Department, told reporters on January 18 that all of the victims were citizens of Uzbekistan.
Officials say the bus caught fire at 10:30 a.m. local time about 10 kilometers from the village of Qalybai on a highway that links the Russian city of Samara with Kazakhstan’s southern city of Shymkent.
Ruslan Imankulov, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry’s Emergency Situations Committee in Astana, said five survivors included two Kazakh bus drivers and three citizens of Uzbekistan.
He said the bus was registered in the country’s South Kazakhstan region.
Authorities said the bus had begun its journey in Shymkent and was traveling to Russia.
They said most of the passengers were thought to be Uzbek migrant workers.
Many people from Uzbekistan travel to Russia as migrant workers, and the road routes between the two countries cross Kazakhstan.
Local police, investigators, rescue workers, and psychologists were working at the scene of the fire on January 18.
Although an investigation was still under way on January 18, the regional Emergency Situations Department said an electrical malfunction could have triggered the tragedy.
Kenes said the “preliminary theory” of investigators about the cause of the fire was a “short circuit.”
He also said the Hungarian-built Ikarus bus was overloaded with passengers.
Ikarus was a main supplier of large passenger buses within the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc from the 1960s through the 1980s.