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Police revise number of Gotthard victims

One of the abandoned trucks inside the Gotthard tunnel Keystone

Swiss police on Monday adjusted the number of victims of Wednesday's Gotthard tunnel disaster to ten.

Previously, Ticino cantonal police had said 11 people were killed following the collision of two trucks in the tunnel, which sparked a devastating fire.

Police said on Monday afternoon that nine victims have been identified and a tenth victim remains unidentified, however, there has been some confusion over the number of people confirmed dead or missing.

There are currently still two people reported missing following the disaster, although it is not confirmed whether they were in the tunnel at the time.

Meanwhile, safety experts have delayed a search for further victims, because of conditions within the tunnel. Authorities said a team of forensic experts will not be able to start looking for bodies until further tests of the air quality inside the tunnel are carried out.

Burning vehicles and a truck carrying tyres released toxic fumes in the blaze that followed the head-collision on Wednesday.

Ticino thanks helpers

Representatives of Ticino’s cantonal government on Monday expressed gratitude to the 300 helpers and rescue workers who have been at the site of accident since last week.

“We can only guess at what [the rescue workers] saw and accomplished inside the tunnel,” said the social affairs director, Patrizia Pesenti, praising their courage and professionalism.

Another official, Marco Borradori, described the accident as one of the worst ever to have occurred in Ticino.

Reinforcing the tunnel

Giovanni Gado, spokesman for the canton Ticino police, said efforts to stabilise the damaged 250-metre section of the tunnel, which collapsed in the intense heat during the two-day blaze, were completed on Saturday night.

Police and identification experts are expected to take about two to three weeks for their efforts until November 19, when the repair work in the tunnel is scheduled to begin.

The closure of the Gotthard tunnel has caused widespread congestion on Ticino’s roads, with much of the traffic being diverted to mountain paths such as San Bernardino. Authorities have expressed concern that the high mountain passes will not be safe once snow falls, in winter.

The daily average of trucks on the main axis road in neighbouring canton Graubünden has risen from 600 to 4,500 a day.

Heavy traffic was also reported other roads, such as the Brenner motorway in Northern Italy, during the weekend.

The Gotthard, the main gateway through the Alps from Germany to Italy, is normally used by about 19,000 vehicles a day.

Train route

A number of motorists have turned to the Gotthard’s train route. Between 30 and 40 cars per hour used the Gotthard’s separate train tunnel, placing their cars aboard trains.

The key alternate route, the Mont Blanc tunnel between France and Italy, is due to open for passenger cars on December 15, but only in one direction. Mont Blanc is expected to allow truck traffic a few weeks later.

The Mont Blanc tunnel has been closed since 1999 after a fire killed 39 people.

Authorities say the Gotthard tunnel is likely to remain closed to traffic for several months.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR