Two people were killed and 26 injured in a fire in Taiwan's 12.9-kilometre Hsuehshan Tunnel after a chain collision involving a truck and two buses early yesterday afternoon.
Heavy smoke billowed through the tunnel's southbound tube, trapping more than 300 people, police and highway officials said.
One of the world's longest mountain tunnels, the Hsuehshan Tunnel links New Taipei City in northern Taiwan with Ilan in the northeast.
Police said a bus hit a truck that had slowed down suddenly, possibly because of a flat tyre, and was then hit from behind by another bus.
The impact pushed the truck under the first bus, sparking a fireball that badly burned the truck and the front of the first bus.
It created thick smoke inside the tunnel, they said.
'We have found two burned bodies from a truck that was badly burned,' Highway Bureau spokesman Tseng Ta-jen said.
The bodies had yet to be identified, he said, adding that the truck's licence plate was burned beyond recognition.
Tseng said dozens of firefighters and rescue workers were sent to save the trapped and injured as soon as the fire was reported.
The northbound tube was closed off as emergency side-tubes were opened to allow trapped people and vehicles to leave the southbound tube, he said.
Two of those injured, including one of the bus drivers, were in critical condition, while the others were suffering from scratches or smoke inhalation, police said. All 26 were taken to nearby hospitals for treatment.
Police said the southbound tube would remain closed until the smoke cleared and the evacuation of all people and vehicles could be confirmed. The northbound tube reopened late last night.
Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou expressed shock and regret soon after the accident and demanded that the transport authorities provide swift assistance to those affected. He also ordered them to review whether the safety facilities in the tunnel were adequate and to take immediate action to rectify any flaws.
It was the 10th - and most serious accident - in the tunnel, which opened in June 2006. Considered a civil engineering marvel, it took 15 years to build.