Three die in tunnel terror under Alps nightmare

ONLY THREE months after 42 people died in the Mont Blanc road tunnel fire, Austria has been rocked by an almost identical tragedy.

Three people were feared dead and 49 are being treated in hospital after a blaze in a tunnel near Salzburg.

Firefighters battled for 16 hours at the weekend to extinguish the blaze in the confined space of the Tauern tunnel, which was filled with holidaymakers' cars and haulage lorries. The cause has been identified as a lorry carrying paint-related chemicals, which was hit by another vehicle after stopping at roadworks inside the tunnel.

The resulting explosion, at 5am on Saturday, was 600 metres into the northern end of the tunnel. There were at least 60 vehicles in the tunnel.

Panic followed and eyewitnesses spoke of people refusing to leave their cars and even trying to turn them around and drive away from the smoke and flames.

Almost 70 people managed to escape on foot, emerging covered in soot and choking on thick smoke. Yesterday, 49 people were still in hospital receiving treatment for smoke inhalation.

Authorities have confirmed the dead man as a 27-year-old German lorry driver, Thomas Bernhard. He is said to have been overcome with smoke as he tried to run from the tunnel. His body was found 100 metres from an emergency phone box.

Franz Gruenkranz, 45, from Blindheim, Germany, got to an emergency station within the tunnel, protected from the heat and smoke. "I had already resigned myself to dying," said the lorry driver, who described seeing firemen running past the window of the booth.

Rescue attempts were slowed by the danger to firemen from falling lumps of the concrete ceiling which was damaged by the explosion, and temperatures which reached 1,000C.

Yesterday technicians were brought in to secure the tunnel and enable a criminal-technical investigation to be started today.

An Austrian official said that efforts to recover the 20 or so remaining vehicles would not be made until temperatures inside the tunnel had fallen.

The fire is provoking a dispute over transport policy in Austria, a country that boasts of its Green-influenced transport policies. The leader of Salzburg regional parliament, Franz Schausberger, of the conservative Austrian People's Party said: "The Mont Blanc tunnel is in the same position we are [with the Tauern tunnel]. They tried to build a second tunnel 10 years ago but had to give up the plans for environmental reasons."

His party has blamed the disaster on the fact that the Tauern - like Mont Blanc - tunnel is a single-bore design and demanded that all Austrian tunnels be upgraded to dual-bore.

Madeleine Petrovic, the Green Party leader, said ministers had not told the truth after the Mont Blanc fire, when the public was told no new single-bore tunnels were being constructed in Austria.

In fact, said Ms Petrovic, seven such tunnels were being built.

Concern is focusing on the Brenner Pass, which connects Italy and Austria. There are fears that if the Tauern tunnel is closed during the summer, traffic will be diverted over the Brenner, a heavily loaded stretch of road in an environmentally sensitive area.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reception Manager

£18750 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Hotel in Chadderton is a popular ch...

Recruitment Genius: Designer

£32969 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is going through a period o...

Recruitment Genius: Data Engineer

£35000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Data Engineer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence