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Karl Johaan Hartig, Austrian Ministry of Transport
"We want to be sure that all the safety regulations are fulfilled before we re-open."
 real 28k

Monday, 13 November, 2000, 16:41 GMT
Silence engulfs Kaprun

By Jon Kay in Kaprun

There is a stillness and a silence in Kaprun. Candles flicker on doorsteps. Black banners flutter by the roadside.

There are symbols of tragedy all over Kaprun. Cars sit abandoned close to the glacier. They belong to people who are not coming back

Local people stand on street corners, speaking in hushed tones of friends and colleagues who are known to have died.

And, above it all, the giant Kitzsteinhorn glacier dominates the skyline - a constant reminder of the weekend's disaster in which 159 people are now believed to have died.

More than 150 people were burnt to death in the tunnel
For once, there is no laughter coming from the town's classrooms. Normal lessons have been suspended. Instead children are being taught by grief-counsellors.

This tragedy took many young lives, many local people and some who came to call Kaprun their home. A British born ski-instructor, Kevin Challis, is among the dead. He had taken a group of Kaprun youngsters to the glacier on Saturday, but the children went ahead in a previous train. They survived.

Rescue teams

Occasionally helicopters fly overhead shattering the silence. They are carrying rescue teams to the snowy peak.

More than 80 men have worked round the clock to retrieve bodies from the train-tunnel.

Rescue team
It could weeks before all bodies are recovered
But theirs is an almost impossible task. The tunnel is steep, narrow and pitch-black.

The 1,000C fire has left a mass of twisted metal and blackened debris. There is an overpowering stench of fumes. One member of the emergency team told reporters that it smelt of death.

So far, rescue teams have only managed to remove a small number of bodies. The full recovery operation will take more than a week.

Even then, it will be at least another month before all the victims have been identified. DNA and forensic testing is being carried out at a mortuary in Salzburg.

Symbols of tragedy

Planes arrive every hour bringing relatives of the dead from all over the world. Families and friends are being cared for at the local youth hostel.

The parents of missing Japanese schoolchildren sit alongside military personnel from a US airbase in Germany. Both groups are waiting for the inevitable news - that their loved ones have perished.

Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel
Chancellor Schuessel decreed that all flags fly at half-mast
Officials from the local police force visit the bereaved every hour to offer updates, but here is no optimism here anymore.

There are symbols of tragedy all over Kaprun. Cars sit abandoned close to the glacier. They belong to people who are not coming back.

In the town's hotels and ski-chalets, rooms lie empty. The Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel has decreed that all flags must fly at half-mast on public buildings across the country.

The town's sportshall has become the media centre. Hundreds of journalists are still arriving from all over the world.

Satellite dishes have mushroomed next to the local athletics track. Reporters break the latest news in dozens of languages.

At the same time local people wander past in silence, still unable to believe what has happened here. This is an international disaster - but it is also a very local tragedy.

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26 Apr 00 | UK
Tyne tunnel safety slated
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