Tunnel fire leaves tens of thousands stranded
Tens of thousands of train passengers face travel chaos in Paris, London and Brussels as they wait for the Channel Tunnel to reopen.12 September 2008
CALAIS -- French and British firefighters on Friday extinguished a 1,000-degree inferno in the Channel Tunnel but tens of thousands of travellers faced more infuriating delays as they waited for the undersea link to reopen.
A hundred firefighters were still at the site of the fire carrying out procedures to cool down the rail tunnel that links Britain to the European mainland, officials said.
The firefighters battled through the night in relay teams against flames and heat which they said reached around 1,000 degrees Celsius after the blaze began Thursday afternoon.
Almost all the 27 trucks on board a 700-metre-long freight train bringing them from France to Britain had burned, said Jacques Gounon, chairman of the Eurotunnel company that operates the tunnel.
Tens of thousands of would-be rail travellers have been left stranded in Paris, London and Brussels and hundreds of trucks were stuck on each side of Channel.
Teams of Eurotunnel inspectors began examining the 50 kilometres of the tunnel Friday for fire damage, the company said in a statement.
A spokeswoman said traffic could "possibly" start resuming late Friday in the south tunnel, which was not damaged in the blaze, if safety inspectors deliver a green light.
Eurostar trains will be given priority, followed by shuttles carrying trucks and cars between Folkestone in England and Calais.
There are two tunnels for passenger trains and shuttles, linked by a service tunnel for maintenance and safety operations.
Traffic was expected to resume in the least-damaged sections of the north tunnel in "one or two weeks," the Eurotunnel spokeswoman said. She could give no date for the worst-hit parts of the tunnel.
"We need to redo the electricity, the concrete, everything you do when a house burns down," she said.
Eurostar said around 30,000 passengers had been due to travel on 50 Eurostar trains going through the tunnel on Friday
Kirsty McIntyre, 28, struggling to get to France for a weekend with friends, was stuck at London's St Pancras terminal. "We're going to see if we can get a bus to Dover and a ferry to Calais," he said.
Channel ferry companies have laid on extra boats.
The train was about 12 kilometres from the Calais exit on the French side of the 50.5-kilometre tunnel when it caught fire, officials said.
Thirty-two truck drivers on the shuttle smashed windows to escape and get into the service tunnel from they were evacuated. Six people were injured in the third major blaze since the tunnel under the Channel opened in May 1994.
[AFP / Expatica]