Workers inspect the structure inside the Tsuburano Tunnel on the Tomei Expressway in Yamakitamachi, Japan, on Monday.(Photo: Kyodo News via AP)
TOKYO -- Police investigating an expressway-tunnel ceiling
collapse that killed nine people searched the offices of the tunnel
operator Tuesday to see if there is any evidence that the company
Hundreds of concrete slabs collapsed Sunday deep
inside the Sasago Tunnel west of Tokyo, falling on three moving
vehicles. The accident is raising calls for more spending on Japan's
The tunnel, a major link between Tokyo and
central Japan, opened in 1977 at about the peak of the country's postwar
road construction boom. Central Nippon Expressway Co., its
government-owned operator, said it had no record of any repairs
performed since then, but company official Satoshi Noguchi said an
inspection of the tunnel's roof in September found nothing amiss.
early Tuesday raided several of the company's offices, including its
headquarters in the central city of Nagoya. About a dozen uniformed
police were shown on television entering the headquarters, toting
cardboard and plastic boxes.
"Yes they are searching our offices
here. We will be fully cooperating with them," said Osamu Funahashi,
another company official.
The transport ministry, meanwhile, has
ordered inspections of 49 other highway and road tunnels of similar
construction around the mountainous country.
An estimated 270
concrete slabs suspended from the arched roof of the tunnel, each
weighing 1.4 metric tons (1.54 short tons), fell over a stretch of about
110 meters (120 yards), Noguchi said. Two people suffered injuries in
The operator was exploring the possibility that
bolts holding a metal piece suspending the panels above the road had
weakened with age, he said. The panels, measuring about 5 meters (16
feet) by 1.2 meters (4 feet), and 8 centimeters (3 inches) thick, were
installed when the 4.7-kilometer-long (3-mile-long) tunnel was
constructed in 1977.
Crews had to stop recovery work Monday in the
tunnel about 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Tokyo because the roof
needed to be reinforced to prevent more collapses, said Jun Goto, an
official at the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.
crews were removing the concrete slabs from the tunnel, said Goto, who
added that authorities do not expect to find any more victims inside.
Associated Press writer Elaine Kurtenbach contributed to this report.