ALMATY (Reuters) – A fire on a bus in northwest Kazakhstan killed 52 Uzbek citizens on a route used by migrant workers to Russia, the Kazakh Interior Ministry said on Thursday.
The bus was traveling on a road in the remote Aktau region linking the Russian city of Samara with Shymkent, a city in southern Kazakhstan near the border with Uzbekistan.
It was not clear in which direction the bus, a Hungarian-made Ikarus, had been traveling, but the route is widely used to transport Uzbek workers to and from Russia, where they often work on construction sites.
Only five people managed to escape the burning vehicle, the emergency department of the interior ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said the apparent accident had occurred at 10:30 local time (0430 GMT), but did not provide details about its cause.
A photograph posted online from the site showed that the bus was completely burned. Video images also published on the Web showed that it was positioned diagonally across a two-lane highway in the middle of a steppe covered in snow, burning and emitting a dense black smoke.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan said in a statement that the staff of its embassy was heading to the area, approximately halfway between the Russian border and the Aral Sea.
Last October, another bus operated by Kazakhstan transporting more than 50 Uzbeks was hit by a train in Russia after being trapped on the tracks; 17 people died in that accident.
Report of Mariya Gordeyeva; Written by Olzhas Auyezov; Edition by Toby Chopra