Japan push the panic button, inspection of all major tunnels



Zeenews Bureau

Tokyo: After a highway tunnel in Japan collapsed on Sunday, killing nine people in vehicles upon which landed the concrete ceilings, a sense of panic gripped the Japan on its infrastructural security on Monday.

It immediately ordered inspection probe on 49 other tunnels on highway roads as a precautionary measure.

Today vehicles plying inside the long highway tunnel named Sasago tunnel, caught fire and plumes of smoke billowed from them, obstructing the rescue work.

Though a total of nine bodies were recovered from the vans, the officials feared that the death toll could rise.

The officials suspended rescue work Monday while the highway operator does work to support the remaining panels in the ceiling, said Jun Goto, an official at the Fire and Disaster Management Agency. It's expected to resume by afternoon.

Goto said it's not clear if there are other survivors.

Police and the highway operator Central Japan Expressway Co. were investigating why the concrete panels collapsed. The size of each panel, how many fell and other details about the collapse were not immediately released.

The nine dead were traveling in three vehicles in the tunnel about 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Tokyo on a highway that links the capital to central Japan. The tunnel opened in 1977 and is one of many in the mountainous country.

The private company that runs the highway has said the tunnel underwent a major inspection just two months ago and was given a clean bill of health, reported the BBC.

Company President and CEO Takekazu Kaneko said that the company was inspecting other tunnels of similar structure, including a parallel tunnel for traffic going in the opposite direction. Both sections of the highway were shut down indefinitely.

With Agency Inputs