Police officers and firefighters gather in front of the
Sasago Tunnel on the Chuo Expressway in Otsuki.
A tunnel on a major highway in central Japan which
collapsed yesterday killed at least three people and started a
blaze, Japanese media reported.
Attempts to rescue those still trapped inside the smashed
tunnel, which began spewing smoke after concrete ceiling
panels fell onto the road, have been interrupted for fear
they might trigger another collapse.
Three bodies have been found so far, television networks Fuji
and Asahi said.
The fire service earlier said at least seven people were
unaccounted for in the 4.7 km tunnel in Yamanashi prefecture,
about 80 km west of Tokyo on the Chou Expressway, a main road
connecting the capital to western Japan.
"Dense smoke was coming out as if it covers the entire
mountain," witness Kiyoko Toyomura told Japanese news agency
The fire service said the blaze was extinguished about 11
a.m. - some three hours after the accident occurred.
The operator of the highway, Central Nippon Expressway, said
a 50-60 metres long section of ceiling panels fell to the
road, and it was looking into the cause of the accident.
Motorists described narrow escapes from falling debris, and a
long walk through the darkness after abandoning their cars.
"When I was driving in the tunnel, concrete pieces fell down
suddenly from the ceiling," a man in his 30s 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."
In 1996 a tunnel in Hokkaido, northern Japan, collapsed and
falling rocks crushed cars and a bus, killing 20 people.
NHK reporter Yoshio Goto, caught in Sunday's accident, hit
the accelerator and managed to drive out.
"But it was a bit too late and pieces of ceiling fell on my
car. I kept pressing the pedal and managed to get out," he
said. "Then when I looked around, I saw half of the car
ceiling was crushed."