Tunnel inferno: Number of missing rises to 128

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The Independent Online

The number of people missing after Wednesday's inferno in the longest tunnel in the Alps rose to 128 , after an earlier estimate of 80.

The number of people missing after Wednesday's inferno in the longest tunnel in the Alps rose to 128, after an earlier estimate of 80.

Eleven – 10 men and a woman – were confirmed dead after rescuers fighting blistering temperatures found their bodies. But police fear some of the missing may be trapped beneath the mass of molten metal and concrete caused by a collision between two lorries in the 10-mile Gotthard tunnel.

Romano Piazzini, police chief of the Italian-speaking Ticino canton, said: "The list of those unaccounted for is being constantly revised. Nearly all of the victims died from suffocation as they fought to find the emergency exit into a parallel safety tunnel which enabled many others to escape.''

The higher number of "missing" may reflect confusion as families phoned separate hotlines. But police in Ticino said there could be as many as 100 cars involved in the blaze.

A section of the roof of the tunnel collapsed yesterday, hampering firefighters' efforts. Emergency workers described finding bodies crouched in the foetal position, after they had tried to fend off flames and toxic fumes that swept the tunnel.

A visibly shocked Swiss President, Moritz Leuenberger, said: "It is a scene of horror; a scene of total destruction; a scene of dreadful tragedy."

The disaster has plunged European transport into chaos. Another fatal accident yesterday in the nearby San Bernardino tunnel forced its closure. There are now only two routes from northern Europe into Italy; the Fréjus Pass in the south of France and Brenner Pass from Austria.

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