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Missile Trucks Trigger Tunnel Blasts In South Korea

Firemen try to extinguish a burning truck carrying missile parts at a express way tunnel near Daegu, 01 November 2005, some 300 kilometers (187 miles) southeast of Seoul. A series of explosions erupted 01 November after fire broke out in a highway tunnel south of here and trapped military trucks carrying missile parts, firefighters said. But all occupants of the vehicles managed to escape unhurt, according to the local fire department and witnesses. AFP photo by Jeon Young-Han/ Republic Of Korea Out.

Seoul (AFP) Nov 01, 2005
A truck carrying missile parts for South Korea's air force caught fire Tuesday in a highway tunnel south of Seoul, trapping dozens of cars and triggering a series of explosions, firefighters said.

No casualties were reported after drivers fled for their lives when a brake-lining fire apparently caused the 15-tonne commercial truck to burst into flames inside the tunnel, they said.

A convoy of four trucks was carrying two dismantled missiles, the air force said.

Two leading trucks carrying missile warheads had just passed through the tunnel when a third truck in the convoy burst into flames, they said.

Occupants of some 50 cars fled to safety as smoke billowed from the 1.5 kilometer (one mile) tunnel.

"There were no casualties," Daegu Fire Department official Kyong Soo-Hyun told AFP. "There are some 50 cars still stuck in the tunnel. But motorists all evacuated the tunnel upon the fire."

The air force said the convoy was carrying two ageing Nike Hercules surface-to-air missiles that had been dismantled and were being replaced by new US Patriot missiles at a southwestern missile battery.

The burning truck was carrying solid rocket fuel but the series of blasts was unlikely to be related to that, the air force said.

"Fire, presumably caused by the truck's failed brake system, spread to tyres and then the solid rocket fuel," an air force colonel who identified himself as Lee told AFP.

"The solid rocket fuel usually does not explode but burns."

Firefighters said the blasts were more likely to have been caused by vehicle fuel tanks exploding. Witnesses said they heard seven or eight loud blasts in the tunnel 300 kilometers (187 miles) southeast of Seoul.

The Ministry of Defense said it was investigating the cause of the incident in the Dalseong 2 Tunnel on the Guma Expressway which links Daegu to the coastal town of Masan.

A quick-thinking truck driver who was caught behind the military vehicles said he told all of the motorists to get out of the tunnel as quickly as possible.

"All of the motorists escaped the tunnel, leaving their cars behind. I also abandoned my truck to escape the tunnel," said the driver, Kim Tae-Soo.

Kim O-Yon, head of Daegu Fire Station, said 70 fire trucks were at the scene and the fire was under control.

"Trouble in the brake lining of a military truck carrying missile parts appeared to have caused a fire, followed by an explosion that also caused the fire to spread to other cars inside the tunnel," he said. "All drivers have escaped safely."

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