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Tuesday, 14 November, 2000, 13:22 GMT
Grim task for Austrian soldiers
Austrian army soldiers at the tunnel
The soldiers have helped with previous accidents
Searching through the melted Austrian ski train to find the remains of the victims is a harrowing task.

The dead were so badly burned that visual recognition is impossible.

Many bodies were melted together by the intense fire of the tunnel, which killed 159 people.

Soliders load the remains of victims onto a truck
The body parts are being taken for autopsies
Because of the horrors of the scene, the 40 army soldiers given the task of retrieving the victims, are working in shifts of 1.5 hours.

Chief pathologist Edith Tutsch-Bauer said: "Facial characteristics, such as the shape of the ears, noses and lips which can help with identification in many accidents, cannot be recognised. The skin is so badly blackened that we cannot even make out scars and tattoos."

Medical and psychiatric personnel are on stand-by to give counselling to those unable to deal with the horrific sights inside the tunnel, near the town of Kaprun.

But the soldiers' psychological condition was "okay" according to Captain Markus Kurcz, one of the spokesmen.

"I talked to soldiers who worked in the tunnel yesterday," he said. "They went back down there today of their own free will.

"We wouldn't force them if they were unable to do the work."

Trauma

But with disasters such as this, the rescue workers can be vulnerable. Some of the doctors in Northern Ireland who treated the victims of the Omagh bomb in August 1998 were later found to be suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

The doctors experienced recurrent flashbacks, disturbed sleep, tiredness and irritation, according to a report published in the British Medical Journal last year.

The Austrian soldiers in Kaprun have previous experience in recovering victims of mass accidents. But this does not make them immune to trauma, according to the authors of the report.

In fact, the report said those who are exposed to more than one horrific event are more likely than others to develop PTSD.

Report author Jenny Firth-Cozens said: "The effects of more than one traumatic event are cumulative. It is certainly not the case that the more you see the more immune to it you become."

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13 Nov 00 | Europe
Silence engulfs Kaprun
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