Alpine tunnel salvage work begins

Saturday, October 27, 2001

AIROLO, Switzerland -- An icy wind blasted through charred metal in Europe's longest Alpine highway tunnel Friday as salvage workers penetrated the "red zone" -- the heart of the disaster that killed at least 11 people.

Officials have expected the toll from the fire to rise, but they were encouraged that the occupants of the first vehicles they reached Friday apparently had been able to escape.

Rescuers were able to look in the 12 vehicles in the worst-hit area, and there were no bodies inside. Eleven vehicles remain to be checked, but they are in a less-damaged area.

With the fire that began in a head-on truck crash Wednesday finally extinguished, work crews installed braces to hold up the weakened tunnel roof.

at the heart of the inferno, where temperatures soared as high as 2,200 degrees.

Some 120 people have been reported missing, but authorities said the high number reflected duplication, with worried relatives and friends phoning separate hot lines in different Swiss states.

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