Life Was Low-cost In The usS.R.: The 1982 Salang Tunnel Catastrophe

1980s | June 3, 2021

Native residents stroll together with a donkey carrying water pots after heavy snowfall in Khanozai space some 75 kms in northeast of the provincial capital Quetta on January 14, 2020. (Banaras KHAN/AFP through Getty Photos)

Tucked throughout the rocky wilderness of the Hindu Kush mountains is an almost two-mile tunnel which, regardless of its comparatively quick distance, is essential to connecting the northern and southern areas of Afghanistan. Earlier than the Salang Tunnel was in-built 1964, it took greater than 72 hours to succeed in Kabul from Herat, a trek which these days solely takes about 10. It is now thought of the financial spine of the nation, however issues have not at all times been cheery with the mountain move. Time and time once more, this all-important lifeline has proved a disastrous deathtrap.

The Salang Tunnel Fireplace

The Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 started testing the Salang Tunnel’s security nearly instantly, as on February 23, 1980, a construct up of exhaust fumes killed 16 Soviet soldiers who have been making an attempt to maneuver a heavy missile via the poorly ventilated move. Nevertheless, nothing confirmed the tunnel’s true claustrophobic terror just like the Salang Tunnel hearth of 1982, when a big Soviet convoy made the drastic mistake of taking the perilous shortcut. The tunnel, initially constructed with vehicles and items transport in thoughts, didn’t do nicely with congested visitors from massive automobiles, and the dust and debris from the unpaved road obscure any driver’s imaginative and prescient. It was a recipe for disaster that got here out of the oven when a gas truck accidentally hit the truck in entrance of it and there was nowhere for the ensuing fireball to go however sideways.

Troopers journey aboard a Soviet BMD airborne fight car, 1986. (Unknown writer/Wikimedia Commons)

The Preliminary Results Of The Salang Tunnel Fireplace

The fast loss was fast, as an estimated 30 buses carrying troopers additionally blew up after the preliminary burst. Drivers additional out within the tunnel, unaware of the disaster, stayed stalled of their working vehicles, creating a carbon monoxide surplus that solely fed the encroaching flames and resulted in lots of deaths from smoke inhalation and monoxide poisoning. Sadly, the gas truck collision occurred to happen within the very middle of the 1.7-mile stretch, so communication was lower off from both aspect who tried to flee the ever-growing fires.

With none info from contained in the tunnel, the Soviet guards positioned outdoors assumed the explosion was an assault by insurgent Afghan forces and made the harrowing resolution to shut off each ends of the tunnel to forestall the “assault” from reaching the navy posts on both aspect. The  Mujaheddin guerrilla fighters had focused tunnels previously to ambush the Soviets, so it is not like they have been leaping to wild conclusions, however closing the tunnel was nonetheless a drastic measure that left troopers and civilians alike with no hope of escape.

An avalanche gallery on the street to the Salang Tunnel on March 19, 2010. (Scott L. Sorensen/Wikimedia Commons)

The Aftermath Of The Salang Tunnel Fireplace

The actual variety of lives misplaced within the Salang Tunnel hearth is unknown, because it was an lively passageway and the Soviet Union was infamous for lowballing fatalities when the occasion turned out to be their fault. (The official dying toll of Chernobyl is a surprisingly low 31, regardless of proof that hundreds died in the fallout.) Formally, it stands that 64 Soviets and round 100 Afghan residents have been killed within the hearth, however outdoors sources estimate that the true dying toll was as excessive as 3,000.

Since then, the tunnel has been a song of ice rather than fire, as avalanches in 2002, 2009, and 2010 have resulted within the deaths of a whole bunch of people that acquired caught and froze to dying. In Could 2012, the Afghan authorities lastly determined to do one thing about this concrete coffin and teamed up with the USA Company for Worldwide Improvement to enhance the move after President Barack Obama introduced Afghanistan as a non-N.A.T.O. ally. As of 2021, nonetheless, the brand new tunnel has not damaged floor, and the unique tunnel nonetheless ferries hundreds of cars each day.

Tags: 1980s | fire | Soviet Union

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