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Thursday, July 8, 1999 Published at 17:14 GMT 18:14 UK

World: Europe

Tunnel blaze report highlights failings

The blaze trapped drivers in an inferno

An official report into the fire in the Mont Blanc tunnel between France and Italy, in which 39 people died in March, has criticised the level of co-ordination between the two countries.

Stephen Jessel: "The report explains the background to the decision not to pin blame"
The blaze, which at times reached temperatures of 1000C, started when a Belgian lorry carrying flour and margarine caught fire in the 11km (seven mile) long tunnel under the Alps, western Europe's highest mountain range.

The fire trapped around 40 vehicles in dense and poisonous smoke.

[ image: The fire burned for more than 3 days]
The fire burned for more than 3 days
It took fire services several days to extinguish the blaze.

The report, put together by a team of experts from both countries, has made 41 recommendations but does not attribute blame to any individual.

It says a technical supervisor on the Italian side of the tunnel "worsened the situation" after the fire broke out on 23 March by letting fresh air into the tunnel instead of extracting smoke, as was planned under emergency procedures.

Safety recommendations

Amongst the recommendations for improving safety were calls for:

  • A single director with responsibility for the tunnel
  • Tighter coordination between Italian and French control rooms
  • A thorough review of the ventilation system
  • Greater gaps between heavy goods vehicles
  • More fireproof refuges

But the report says the investigators were uncertain whether the deaths would have been avoided had the safety procedures been followed.

Relatives' anger

[ image: France's Jean-Pierre Chevenement criticised the warning systems]
France's Jean-Pierre Chevenement criticised the warning systems
The BBC's Stephen Jessel says that relatives of the victims are upset that the report has refrained from attributing blame.

The tunnel is due to reopen in the next few months, but a local group with 1,800 members - the Association for the Respect of the Mont Blanc Site - is calling for lorries to be banned from using the tunnel.

After the tragedy, French Interior Minister, Jean-Pierre Chevenement, criticised the tunnel's security cameras for apparently not being up to the challenge of such a fire.

The report concludes that building a second tunnel to separate traffic is desirable but impractical.

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28 Mar 99 | Europe
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Internet Links

French Transport Research Centre

Italian Ministry of Transport and Navigation

Association for the Respect of the Mont Blanc site

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