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(3rd LD) 3 dead, 43 injured in multiple expressway pileups

All Headlines 21:01 February 17, 2020

(ATTN: CHANGES number of fatalities to 3 in headline and lead; UPDATES with additional information in paras 3-5, 12)

JEONJU/NAMWON, South Korea, Feb. 17 (Yonhap) -- At least three people were killed and 43 others injured Monday in two expressway pileups in southwestern South Korea following heavy snow, authorities said.

At least six of the 43 hurt were said to be in critical conditions.

The first accident occurred at 12:23 p.m. when a tank truck carrying nitric acid reportedly ran into a small pile of cars involved in an earlier accident inside a tunnel on a highway connecting Suncheon and Wanju in North Jeolla Province.

About a dozen other vehicles ran into the truck, which had spilled its load and caught fire, according to police and rescue officials.

The third and latest victim was found in a car crushed under the tank truck. Those injured have been taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.

Police officers work at the scene of a multi-vehicle pileup in a tunnel on a highway connecting the southwestern South Korean cities of Suncheon and Wanju on Feb. 17, 2020. (Yonhap)

The exact cause of the accident has yet to be identified, but the officials note the truck and the other cars may have skidded on snow or ice patches on the road.

"We are still unable to determine the exact cause of the accident, but the road near the accident site was far more slippery than usual due to heavy snow that began early in the morning," a police official said.

The area near the site of the accident received about 5.9 cm of snow as of 1 p.m., as the entire nation was under snow warning or alert.

The second accident took place almost simultaneously with the first one, inside another tunnel located just a few hundred meters from the site of the first accident, according to the police.

The police had to completely shut down the tunnels, partly due to a large number of vehicles piled up inside but also because of toxic gas coming from the fire.

"Rescue efforts are quite tough as black gas has covered the accident site," a police officer said.

Officials said the exact cause of the accidents will be investigated once the tunnels are cleared, adding there were still at least seven vehicles left inside one of the tunnels as of 8 p.m.

This photo, provided by a reader, shows the site of the pileup that occurred on a highway connecting Suncheon and Wanju in North Jeolla Province on Feb. 17, 2020. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)


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