Japan tunnel collapse: Charred bodies found

PTI Koshu (Japan) | Updated on November 17, 2017 Published on December 02, 2012

Japanese rescuers found several charred bodies in a highway tunnel that collapsed today, crushing cars and triggering a blaze, and sparking fears of another cave-in.

At least seven people were missing inside the nearly five-kilometre long tunnel. Witnesses spoke of terrifying scenes as one vehicle burst into flames, sending out clouds of blinding, acrid smoke.

Rescuers were forced to suspend for several hours their efforts to reach those believed trapped under thick concrete ceiling panels that crashed from the roof of the tunnel, as engineers warned more debris could fall.

Emergency crews who rushed to the Sasago tunnel on the Chuo Expressway, 80 km west of the capital, were hampered by thick smoke billowing from the entrance.

Dozens of people abandoned their vehicles on the Tokyo-bound section of carriageway, and ran for one of the emergency exits or for the mouth, where they huddled in bitter winter weather.

Emergency crews equipped with breathing apparatus battled around a third of the way into the tunnel, where they found up to 70 metres of concrete panels had come crashing down, crushing at least two vehicles.

Hours after the collapse, engineers warned the structure could be unstable, forcing rescuers to suspend their work as a team of experts assessed the danger.

It was during this inspection that accompanying police officers confirmed the first deaths.

“What we found resembled bodies inside a vehicle, they were blackened. We have visually confirmed them but have yet to take them out for closer examination,” an official told AFP.

The rescue operation resumed several hours later, an AFP reporter witnessed.

Cameras inside the tunnel earlier showed an ambulance and several firefighters wearing protective gear, working in a section where cars sat with their lights flashing, shrouded in smoke.

“According to information from local fire authorities, seven people are missing but the number has not been confirmed,” an official at the government’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency told AFP.

At least three people were taken to hospital, including one 28-year-old woman who emerged from the smoke-darkened tunnel by herself.

The woman told the fire rescue unit she had been travelling in a rented van with five other people, fire department official Kazuya Tezuka told AFP by telephone.

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Published on December 02, 2012
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