National Societies working together following bus attack in Bulgaria

Published: 19 July 2012 23:30 CET

By Giovanni Zambello

A few minutes before 6pm on Wednesday, the Disaster Management Department of the Bulgarian Red Cross received an urgent call from the Red Cross branch director in Burgas, on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast. A bus transporting Israeli citizens had been targeted in a bomb attack at the Burgas International Airport. Seven people were dead and 33 more wounded.

“We took action immediately, activating a National Emergency Operational team at headquarters level and cross-checking our information with that of local authorities in the region, which confirmed that it was a real emergency,” said Jassen Slivensky, head of the disaster management in the Bulgarian Red Cross.

30 minutes later, a team of 16 from the Red Cross branch in Burgas – staff and volunteers, including a volunteer disaster response team, first aiders, five psychologists with DM training, and other generalists – was set up and deployed to the airport to join the four response teams mobilized by the local authorities. A restricted area was established, where the Bulgarian Red Cross teams are distributing drinks, snacks and providing psychosocial support to non-injured people.

“In the meanwhile we established contact with the Europe Zone Office, who facilitated the communications with the Magen David Adom (MDA) in Israel,” Jassen said. “Since the very first hours after the attack, the three of us have been in contact on a regular basis, cross-checking the latest information and coordinating our joint action.”

Around 8pm, the Bulgarian Red Cross received a request from the MDA in Israel to agree to the deployment of MDA team to Burgas, to help coordinate the activities on the field, arrange transportation for the MDA staff and other technical support, including translation, deployment of special vehicles, and liaison services between the MDA delegation on its way to Bulgaria. Most of the victims were suffering from blast injuries, orthopaedic problems to their limbs and shrapnel wounds.

At 1.30 early on Thursday morning, planes bringing the MDA team – 25 people, including medical doctors and paramedics - landed at Burgas airport.

MDA director general, Eli Bin, leader of the delegation, stayed at the airport to give support to the Israelis who were waiting there to return to Israel, and made contact with the Israeli Ambassador in Bulgaria in order to plan and coordinate any further action. Immediately after, he headed to the hospitals to supervise the process of transporting the wounded back to Israel in coordination with the local health authorities and Israeli government.

The medical team immediately upon arrival, left the airport for the hospitals with the Bulgarian team and the Bulgarian Red Cross. All the wounded are now in a stable condition having received the necessary treatment.

“The 33 people who were injured are now already on their way back to Israel, together with part of the MDA team,” said Itamar Abramovich, deputy director of the training department in the MDA. “Only three people, due to their serious health issues, had to be moved to Sofia hospital, and will be repatriated as soon as their health conditions improve.”

Jassen said that the teams from the Bulgarian Red Cross and MDA worked well together. “This event, though dramatic and shocking for both sides, shows a unique example of how two National Societies can work together with the support of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, in the pursuit of the spirit of togetherness, and most of all, of humanity,” he said.