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Mont Blanc tunnel fire inquiry highlights safety problems

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Mont Blanc tunnel fire inquiry highlights safety problems


The commissioners charged with investigating the 1999 Mont Blanc fire have slammed the organisations that ran the tunnel, accusing them of caring more about cash than safety. On day two of the high profile trial in the French town of Bonneville the families of the 39 victims heard how a series of factors combined to create deadly inferno that few could escape. The blaze began when a Volvo truck loaded with margarine and flour caught fire after breaking down half-way along the Alpine tunnel between France and Italy.

While the Swedish firm, and the Belgian truck driver, are among the accused, the evidence heard so far has pointed at a series of historical problems which exacerbated the situation.

A lack of funds meant the ventilation system was not included in modernisation work in 1990, and the pressurised refuges along the tunnel were not designed to withstand the 1,000 degree heat of the fire. The 12-kilometre long tunnel also did not have the separate escape passages seen here that it has now. What is more, investigators have found there was a lack of training and preparation on the part of rescue teams – and a failure to recognise the impact thick smoke would have on response times. The trial is expected to continue until the end of April.

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