Several dead in tunnel collapse
Police in Japan have found the charred bodies of several people who were trapped inside their vehicle after part of a motorway tunnel collapsed and caught fire on this morning.
Japanese media said several vehicles were ablaze after a 100 metre long section of the Sasago tunnel’s ceiling caved in shortly after 8am.
Firefighters discovered the bodies inside a white van after battling through thick smoke. The number of bodies inside the car is unknown; local media were reporting that as many as seven people were missing.
The rescue operation was temporarily halted in the afternoon amid fears of another collapse.
Police said they did not know what had caused the section of the 2.5 mile tunnel to cave in. The tunnel is located along a busy section of the Chuo expressway about 80km west of Tokyo.
Dozens of motorists, including two women who received minor injuries in the accident, left their cars and walked out of the tunnel to safety.
“When I was driving in the tunnel, concrete pieces fell down suddenly from the ceiling,” one man told public broadcaster NHK. “I saw a crushed car catching fire. I was frightened, left my car and walked for about an hour to get out of the tunnel.”
Earlier, firefighters had struggled to reach the scene of the accident after the tunnel filled with smoke.
“We have limited information on the accident at the moment but smoke is said to be coming out from the tunnel as an unspecified number of vehicles were burning,” a police spokesman said.
Television footage showed emergency vehicles parked outside the tunnel’s entrance. One man told TV Asahi he had witnessed the cave-in before calling police, who told him to flee. “A few seconds later and my car would have been right in the middle of it,” he said.
Asahi TV said at least three cars had been trapped inside. One woman who had managed to make her way out of the tunnel reportedly told police that five other people were still inside the rented vehicle in which she had been travelling.
There was no information on the exact number of casualties in the accident, which occurred on the Tokyo-bound section of the motorway in Otsuki, Yamanashi prefecture.
Yoshio Goto, a reporter for the public broadcaster NHK who was driving through the tunnel when the roof began to fall, confirmed that several cars had been trapped inside. Goto, who emerged safely, said he had seen thick smoke billowing from one end of the tunnel.
“I managed to drive through the tunnel but vehicles nearby appeared to have been trapped,” local media quoted him as saying.
“Black smoke was coming and there seemed to be a fire inside the tunnel.”
Guardian News & Media