Police officers and firefighters gather at the exit of the Sasago Tunnel on the Chuo Expressway in Otsuki, Japan, on Sunday.(Photo: Kyodo News via AP)
TOKYO -- Japanese officials ordered the
immediate inspection of tunnels across the country Monday after nine
people were killed when concrete ceiling slabs fell from the roof of a
highway tunnel onto moving vehicles below.
Those killed in
Sunday's accident were traveling in three vehicles in the 4.7-kilometer
(3-mile) long Sasago Tunnel about 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of
Tokyo. The tunnel, on a highway that links the capital to central Japan,
opened in 1977 and is one of many in the mountainous country.
transport ministry ordered that inspections be carried out immediately
on 49 other tunnels around the country that are either on highways or
roads managed by the central government and of similar construction.
and the highway operator Central Japan Expressway Co. were
investigating why the concrete slabs in the Sasago Tunnel collapsed. An
inspection of the tunnel's roof in September found nothing amiss,
according to Satoshi Noguchi, a company official.
An estimated 270
concrete slabs, each weighing 1.4 metric tons (1.54 short tons),
suspended from the arched roof of the tunnel fell over a stretch of
about 110 meters (120 yards), Noguchi said.
The operator was
exploring the possibility that bolts holding a metal piece suspending
the panels above the road had become aged, 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 tunnel was
constructed in 1977.
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.
work at the tunnel was suspended Monday while the roof was being
reinforced to prevent more collapses, said Jun Goto, an official at the
Fire and Disaster Management Agency
Yoshihiro Seto, an officer
with the Yamanashi prefectural police, said they can't rule out that
there are more bodies or survivors in the tunnel, but the possibility is
low. Goto said they hope to resume recovery work on Tuesday.
Two people suffered injuries in the collapse.