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The BBC's Justin Webb
"A tragedy that's stolen so many young lives"
 real 56k

Sunday, 12 November, 2000, 14:03 GMT
Austria mourns tunnel blaze victims
Graphic showing site of disaster
Rescue workers in Austria have begun the grim task of hacking through the charred wreckage of an Alpine ski train in which more than 150 people died on Saturday.

Officials have confirmed that 12 passengers managed to scramble from the burning train, but that 155 people died in the inferno.

Ski train victims
52 Austrians
42 Germans
17 Japanese
8 Americans
2 Slovenians
1 Croatian
33 unidentified
The authorities say they have established the identities of many of the victims "with 90% certainty".

Most are from Austria, Germany, Japan and the US. It is thought that a number of Britons also died.

The details were given by regional government Franz Shausberger as the country observed a day of national mourning.

At least 33 of the dead are believed to have been local government employees and their families from the Austrian town of Wels, who were on an office outing.

Relatives have been arriving at a counselling centre
At least 500 people remain listed as missing, as relatives desperately try to trace skiers and snowboarders known to have been staying in the area around the Kitzsteinhorn glacier.

The Foreign Office in London has issued two emergency numbers in Austria for people concerned about relatives.

A list of people reported safe and well has been published on the website of Austrian broadcaster ORF.

People screamed and tried desperately to find a way out - they tried to rip open the shut doors and to break windows

The first task of the 250-strong search team is to secure the funicular train's frayed cable, which is in danger of snapping and sending the remains of the train hurtling back down the tunnel in which the blaze erupted.

The fire started 600m into the tunnel outside Kaprun, near Salzburg, on Saturday morning. Its cause remains a mystery.

Intense heat

One eyewitness said the flames started on the rails below the carriage but, once ignited, the blaze ripped through the train, fanned by the upward draught in the tunnel.

A huge rescue operation was launched to try to save the passengers - but intense heat and dense smoke billowing through the tunnel prevented anyone getting close enough to save them.

Emergency numbers for relatives
00 43 654 720 000
00 43 662 814 4300

A team of forensic experts from Germany will help with identification.

The only bodies recovered so far have been of three people who were killed by smoke billowing from the top of the tunnel.

Mr Schausberger said no one who had not fled instantly could have survived.

Three people were killed by smoke at the top of the tunnel
"I did not realise the full extent of the catastrophe until two railway workers came directly from the tunnel and told us all they had found was the metal base of the train," Mr Schausberger said.

"I have to say that it is one of the darkest and hardest days for Salzburg that we have ever seen."

Many of the dead were "probably young people, who might have decided only this morning to enjoy the day and do some winter sports - some skiing maybe or snowboarding," Mr Schausberger said.

Rescue teams have had to clamber on foot to the scene of the disaster
The accident has been described as Austria's worst post-war tragedy.

A fire in the Mont Blanc tunnel between France and Italy in March, 1999, killed 39 people, prompting a wave of concern over tunnel safety.

Two months later another Alpine tunnel was hit - this time the Tauern tunnel near Salzburg, killing 12 people and injuring 50.

Inspectors who visited 25 major tunnels around Europe after the Mont Blanc blaze found that nearly a third of them had poor safety features.

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26 Apr 00 | UK
Tyne tunnel safety slated
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