7 feared dead af­ter road tun­nel col­lapses

One ve­hi­cle catches fire, fills tun­nel with smoke, ham­per­ing res­cue ef­forts.

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - By martin Fackler Fire­fight­ers and po­lice of­fi­cers gather at the exit of east­ern Ja­pan’s Sasago Tun­nel, which col­lapsed on Sun­day. Three ve­hi­cles were crushed. AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

TOKYO — At least seven peo­ple were feared dead af­ter part of a high­way tun­nel col­lapsed Sun­day in east­ern Ja­pan, trap­ping them in their ve­hi­cles and start­ing a fire that filled the tun­nel with thick, black smoke.

Three ve­hi­cles ap­pear to have been crushed un­der con­crete that fell from the ceil­ing of the three-mile Sasago Tun­nel near the city of Ot­suki in Ya­manashi pre­fec­ture, about 50 miles west of Tokyo, the na­tional government’s dis­as­ter man­age­ment agency said. Agency and po­lice of­fi­cials said it re­mained un­clear why the 150- to 200-foot sec­tion of eight­inch-thick con­crete, weigh­ing about 180 tons, sud­denly fell.

A ve­hi­cle car­ry­ing six peo­ple caught fire, emit­ting heavy smoke that ini­tially pre­vented fire­fight­ers from en­ter­ing the tun­nel. But even af­ter putting out the blaze, res­cuers had to tem­po­rar­ily sus­pend ef­forts to reach the trapped ve­hi­cles be­cause of the dan­ger of a fur­ther col­lapse, of­fi­cials said.

They said res­cue ef­forts re­sumed later in the day, though progress was slow be­cause fire­fight­ers were still mov­ing care­fully.

Of­fi­cials said a 28-year- old woman man­aged to flee from the ve­hi­cle that caught fire. She told fire­fight­ers that five other peo­ple re­mained trapped in her ve­hi­cle. It was un­known how many peo­ple were in the other ve­hi­cles be­sides the drivers, who were ap­par­ently also still trapped in­side.

One of the other ve­hi­cles ap­peared to be a truck be­long­ing to a food whole­saler, of­fi­cials said. They said the driver called his com­pany right af­ter the ac­ci­dent to ask for help, but sub­se­quent at­tempts to reach him by his cell­phone failed.

The op­er­a­tor of the high­way, Cen­tral Nip­pon Ex­press­way, held a news con­fer­ence to apol­o­gize for the ac­ci­dent.

The po­lice said they had opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the cause of the col­lapse and whether pro­fes­sional neg­li­gence by the op­er­a­tor was a fac­tor.

The ac­ci­dent closed a sec­tion of the Chuo Ex­press­way, a vi­tal trans­porta­tion artery con­nect­ing Tokyo to west­ern Ja­pan.

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