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Two-way traffic resumes in Hsuehshan Tunnel after fatal fire

2012/05/08 18:03:50

Taipei, May 8 (CNA) Two-way traffic in the Hsuehshan Tunnel that links New Taipei and Yilan in the northeast of the country resumed Tuesday after a fire erupted in the tunnel Monday, killing two people.

However, although the traffic in the 12.9 km tunnel is now flowing both ways, the speed limit for vehicles in the southbound lanes from New Taipei City to Yilan County has been reduced from 90 km per hour to 80 kph because of poor lighting, officials at the Pinglin Traffic Control Center said.

The speed limit in the northbound lanes in the tunnel, which is on the No. 5 National Highway, remains unchanged at 90 kph, the officials noted.

Some lighting and video surveillance equipment on the southbound lanes in the tunnel was damaged in fire, and therefore makeshift lighting was being used temporarily there, said the officials in explaining why the speed limit was reduced.

Proper lighting will be restored in two weeks, they speculated. "After that, the speed limit will be reset at 90 kph," they said.

The fire erupted when a passenger bus rear-ended a car in a line of vehicles that were trying to avoid a truck in front of them that had a tire blowout, according to the National Freeway Bureau.

The bus and the car caught fire, leaving two people in the car dead and more than 20 others injured.

National freeway police found a video chip from a surveillance camera on the site of accident, which confirmed that the car from which the two burned bodies were recovered had a license plate number starting with T5.

The police were able to identify the owner of the car as Lee Kuan-lin from Yilan City.

Lee told the police that his parents had used the vehicle Monday to deliver an order of ready-made clothes but he had not been able to contact them since.

Police suspect that two bodies are Lee's parents, but Lee appeared reluctant to accept that and has asked for a DNA test. Forensic personnel have since collected DNA samples from Lee and the two bodies in an effort to make a positive identification.

Meanwhile, Wu Hui-lan, chief prosecutor of the Yilan District Prosecutors Office, said an investigation has been launched to find out who should be held responsible for the accident, the worst that has ever occurred in the world's fifth longest tunnel since it opened in 2006.

Lee Chien-wen, general manager of Capital Bus that owned the bus in the accident, said the company will accept responsibility if its driver is found to be at fault.

The bus driver is in intensive care at an Yilan hospital, where he is being treated for severe smoke inhalation.

Capital Bus is a privately-owned company that offers city and inter-city transportation services in northern and northeastern Taiwan.

(By Worthy Shen, Wang Hong-kuo and Elizabeth Hsu)
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