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Five dead in South Korea road tunnel fire

SEOUL (AFP) – Five people have been killed and dozens injured after a bus and truck crash caused a huge fire at an expressway tunnel on the outskirts of Seoul, the local fire department told AFP.

Images of the scene in local media showed huge flames and plumes of smoke rising from the tunnel, as hundreds of firefighters battled to bring the blaze under control.

The fire started when a bus collided with a truck at around 1.50pm (0450 GMT) in the expressway tunnel in Gwacheon, an official at the fire department told AFP.

The raised tunnel, which is designed to protect surrounding buildings from the noise of the road, was quickly engulfed in flames, images in local media showed.

Firefighters have brought the blaze under control, the official said.

“We are doing a search inside the tunnel in case of additional casualties,” the official added.

After initially saying that six people had been killed, authorities have revised down the death toll to five, with 37 people injured.

Firefighters work to extinguish a fire on a highway in Gwacheon, South Korea. AP

Some of the injured have suffered from burns, the official said. “Three have suffered burns on facial areas while the rest are being treated for smoke inhalation,” he said.

Interior Minister Lee Sang-min called for “maximum resources deployed” to save lives, the Yonhap News Agency reported.

“I urge the authorities to put out the best efforts to save the lives of those who have not escaped,” he said.

The fatal accident comes just months after 150 people, mostly young women, were killed in a Halloween crowd crush in the Itaewon nightlife district.

South Korea’s rapid transformation from a war-torn, impoverished backwater to Asia’s fourth-largest economy and a flourishing democracy is a source of great national pride.

But a series of preventable disasters – including Itaewon, and the Sewol ferry sinking which killed more than 300 people in 2014 – has shaken public confidence.

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