(5th LD) At least 5 killed, 37 injured in expressway tunnel fire
(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 3-5)
GWACHEON, South Korea, Dec. 29 (Yonhap) -- At least five people were killed and 37 others injured, three of them seriously, Thursday in a noise-barrier tunnel fire along an expressway in Gwacheon, just south of Seoul, fire authorities said.
The blaze was reported to have occurred at 1:49 p.m. inside the noise tunnel in Gwacheon along the Second Gyeongin Expressway that connects the western port city of Incheon to Seongnam City, the authorities said.
Fire authorities initially announced the fire started after a collision between a bus and a garbage truck but later said they would need further investigation to determine the exact cause, leaving open the possibility that the truck alone may have been responsible for the deadly blaze.
Rescuers found five people dead inside four different vehicles. They initially put the death toll at six but later corrected it to five, saying one victim was counted twice.
Thirty-seven others sustained injuries, such as smoke inhalation, most of them slight, but three people suffered serious injuries, including burns.
Authorities said 45 vehicles were destroyed in the fire.
President Yoon Suk Yeol instructed the government to thoroughly search the site of the accident to ensure there are no additional casualties and to provide full medical assistance to those who were rescued, according to deputy presidential spokesperson Lee Jae-myoung.
Yoon also called for a thorough analysis of the cause of the damage, measures to prevent a recurrence of similar accidents and an immediate inspection of noise tunnels and similar facilities, Lee said.
The authorities said the death toll could rise further depending on the outcome of the rescue operation.
A total of 94 fire trucks, 219 fire personnel and helicopters were sent to the scene, and the fire was completely extinguished at 4:12 p.m.
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