Burned-out tunnel faces long closure

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It’s expected to take “a long time” before state highway officials reopen a tunnel in western Norway that was the site of dramatic explosions and fire on Wednesday. The fire ignited after a tank truck lost its trailer carrying 16,500 liters of gasoline, sending the trailer hurtling into the tunnel wall.

Six people were sent to hospital after the fire but there were no serious injuries or deaths in the accident that sent smoke billowing out of the Skatestraum Tunnel in the county of Sogn og Fjordane Wednesday afternoon. The driver of the truck was being hailed for reacting quickly, alerting emergency crews and helping other motorists get out of the tunnel before it turned into an inferno.

‘Get out, get out!’
“I’m impressed over how fast he handled this, and how he got vehicles ahead of his truck to turn around and get out of the tunnel,” Rolf Olav Tenden of the Norwegian truck drivers association (Norges Lastebileigarforbund) told state broadcaster NRK.

Traffic was relatively light at the time and nine people at both ends of the tunnel were evacuated. One couple told NRK that truck driver Tore Myrestrand came running towards them in the tunnel yelling “Get out, get out, there’s a leak in the tank.”

They said that right after they emerged from the tunnel they could hear the first explosion. They blocked the road leading into the tunnel with their own car to prevent other motorists from entering. “Luckily, the truck driver himself came driving out a few minutes later,” Quinnus Adrichem told NRK.

Undersea connection to the mainland
The Skatestraum Tunnel runs under the sea between Hamna on the island of Rugsundøya and Klubben on Bremangerlandet in Sogn og Fjordane. It opened in 2002 and is 1.9 kilometers long, tying Bremangerlandet and the large island of Frøya to the mainland.

The fire resulted in extensive damage to the tunnel, which was to be further assessed on Thursday. That’s when it was considered safe to send a team of inspectors into the tunnel.

Sveinung Hovland of the state highway department (Statens vegvesen) told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that the tunnel’s interior will need extensive refurbishing before it can reopen to traffic. “There’s a lot of work to be done, so this will take a long time,” Hovland told NRK.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund