Safety experts examine Gotthard tunnel

The Gotthard tunnel was being check on Monday to ensure workers' safety Keystone

Safety experts have delayed a final search for the remains of further victims of last week's disaster in the Gotthard tunnel.

This content was published on November 23, 2001 - 15:59

Swiss police say the current death toll from the accident stands at eleven and they have not ruled out the possibility of finding another five to ten bodies.

Twenty-three people are still reported missing, although this number could include people who were not in the Gotthard tunnel at the time of the disaster, but whose families have reported them missing.

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.

Traffic changes

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

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.

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.

Over the weekend, major traffic congestion was reported on alternate routes, such as the Brenner motorway in Northern Italy.

Economic effect

Officials fear that a long-term closure of the Gotthard tunnel could have disastrous effects on the economy and the tourism industry.

Marina Masoni, director for the Ticino cantonal finance department, said that the canton is likely to ask the government for help.

In an interview with the SonntagsZeitung, Masoni said even though there was not yet a shortage of food supplies in the area, some companies were already lacking spare parts and raw materials.

A complete closure of the tunnel during the winter months could also result in a sharp decline in the tourism industry as with 30 kilometres of skiing slopes the town of Airolo caters for around 100,000 tourists each season.

Livio Lombardi, politician and board member of the ski lift association "Funivia del Gottardo", fears significant losses. "Tourism is the future of our region," he said in an interview.

According to Lombardi, many people used to be employed by the state in the region, however, a lot of these jobs have been cut over the last few years.

The Gotthard tunnel is expected to remain closed for several months.

swissinfo with agencies

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