Japan orders tunnel inspections after Sasago collapse
The Japanese government has ordered
emergency inspections of road tunnels across the country following a
deadly roof collapse west of Tokyo.
Nine people were confirmed dead after
concrete panels collapsed and started a fire in the Sasago tunnel, 80
kilometres (50 miles) from the capital on Sunday. An inquiry into the
Sasago collapse has also been launched. Officials from the highway
operator suggested that metal rods securing the concrete panels may have
Japanese media report that the ministry of land, infrastructure,
transport and tourism has ordered highway operators overseeing tunnels
similar to Sasago to carry out emergency inspections.
The BBC's Rupert Wingfield Hayes in Tokyo says intrusive inspections
of at least 20 tunnels of a similar age and design will now be carried
Smoke billows from the Sasago tunnel He says the focus of the
investigation into the Sasago incident will consider why an inspection
just two months ago did not spot anything wrong.
Japanese media say that for more than 30 years the company that owns
the tunnel had relied on rudimentary visual inspections, with no
reinforcement or repairs since construction.
Motohiro Takamisawa, from Central Nippon Expressway (Nexco), which
operates Sasago, said metal rod failure could have been to blame.
"At this moment we're presuming that the top anchor bolts have come
loose," he said. Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told a news
conference on Monday: "The prime minister ordered the transport ministry
to put the utmost efforts to rescue victims, to quickly investigate the
cause of the accident and to establish measures to prevent similar
accidents and to provide a counselling service to victims."
Rescue crews finally began bringing the bodies of the nine dead out of the tunnel on Monday morning.
were reported to have been so badly burned they would take days to
identify. Three charred and smashed vehicles could also be seen being
pulled from the tunnel's mouth, our correspondent says. Among the dead
was a truck driver who had on Sunday called his company from his mobile
phone saying he was trapped.
Five bodies were also recovered from a van. They were identified as
three men and two women, all in their 20s and from Tokyo, Kyodo news
agency reported. Another woman, 28, who had been in the vehicle
Three bodies were found in another car. A fire broke out after the
tunnel caved in at 08:00 local time on Sunday (23:00 GMT Saturday). A
number of survivors fled to safety on foot. Pictures from closed circuit
TV cameras showed a section of up to 100m (328ft) had caved in on the
Tokyo-bound lanes on the Chuo Expressway in Yamanashi prefecture.
The twin-bore Sasago tunnel is one of the longest in Japan at 4.3km (2.7 miles). (BBC)