Smoke blocks tunnel after fatal blaze

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The Independent Online
FIREFIGHTERS WERE struggling yesterday to extinguish a fire that killed four people in the Mont Blanc road tunnel on Wednesday.

The fire began when a Belgian-registered lorry caught alight about halfway into the seven-mile tunnel, which connects France and Italy. The lorry, carrying flour, was still in flames at midday yesterday.

Flames spread to at least eight other lorries on the Italian side of the tunnel, but these were doused by Italian firefighters. French firefighters were still trying to reach the fire from their side late yesterday. Toxic fumes and smoke were hindering progress, police said.

The French Transport Minister, Jean-Claude Gayssot, who visited the scene of the fire, said the tunnel would have to remain closed for several weeks, at least.

Officials said that among the dead was a firefighter.

The fire from the lorry caused suffocating smoke levels and soaring temperatures.

About 30 people were trapped inside the tunnel for several hours by the thick smoke, because rescue workers could not get through, officials said. But by early evening, all had been evacuated. They had sought refuge in an emergency area of the tunnel.

The tunnel is under Western Europe's highest peak.