December 3, 2012

Japan tunnel collapse, blaze strand motorists

Officials say they cannot confirm the exact number of people believed dead in the tunnel outside Tokyo.

The Associated Press

TOKYO - At least seven people were feared missing and several dead after about 150 concrete panels fell from the roof of a tunnel on the main highway linking Tokyo with central Japan.

click image to enlarge

This image taken from the monitoring camera of Central Nippon Expressway's Hachioji branch, Tokyo, shows the fallen roof panels in the Sasago Tunnel, Yamanashi Prefecture, central Japan, on Sunday. At least seven people were feared missing after parts of a tunnel collapsed, trapping vehicles as smoke from a fire inside initially prevented rescuers from approaching. The words at bottom read: Sasago Tunnel (To Tokyo).

The Associated Press

Efforts to rescue any survivors were hindered by heavy smoke after one vehicle caught fire inside the Sasago Tunnel, about 50 miles outside Tokyo.

Rescuers also temporarily suspended work because of fears of a further collapse.

They were trying to reach several vehicles believed buried in the rubble, including a truck whose driver was trapped inside and had called his company for help.

"I could hear voices of people calling for help, but the fire was just too strong," said a woman interviewed by public broadcaster NHK after she escaped from the tunnel.

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency issued a statement late Sunday saying five people were confirmed to have been in a car that burned inside the tunnel, and at least one other was in a truck.

However, officials said they could not confirm the exact number of people believed dead.

Executives for Central Japan Expressway Co. said the company was investigating why the concrete panels had given way. A check of the 3-mile tunnel's roof in September and October found nothing amiss, they said.

It said two people were confirmed hurt, but the injuries were not severe.

The tunnel, which opened in 1977, is one of many in mountainous Japan. The location of the collapse, about a mile inside the tunnel, was complicating rescue efforts, reports said.

Police vehicles, fire trucks and ambulances were massed outside the tunnel's entrance.

 

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