A collapse affecting a large part of a busy road link tunnel in Japan has resulted in deaths. The Sasago tunnel is a busy road link used by people travelling to Tokyo. The collapse happened at 08:00 local time (23:00 GMT Saturday), about 80km (50 miles) west of Tokyo on a road that links it to the city of Nagoya.
Initial reports were that at least seven people were missing. Rescue effrots were temporarily delayed as a fire broke out. Smoke was seen pouring out of the tunnel. The collapse affected about 100 metres of the long tunnel which is an estimated 4.3km (2.7 miles) long.
In spite of the smoke and collapse some people walked out of the tunnel virtually unscathed. Their proximity to the collapse would have been an important factor. A huge block of concrete fell crushing what was underneath. The concrete block was reported to be 50 to 60 meters long and about 20 centimeters (8 inches) thick.
As the emergency service personnel resumed their work the first charred bodies were discovered. The latest reports are that several charred bodies have been found trapped inside one vehicle.
12 hours after the tragedy two vehicles remain trapped. The number of fatalities and injured is not known. As yet there is no indication as to what caused the tunnel collapse.
Japan is a country prone to damaging earthquakes but no such event has been recorded in the area. An investigation is bound to follow.
Traffic chaos is expected later Sunday as weekend trippers attempt to return to Tokyo. For now the prime concern must be safety and ensuring that no further collapse is possible. Along with that completing a search and the rescue effort is essential.
Such an occurrence will have been terrifying in such a confined area.
Monday December 3, update
The death toll from the tunnel tragedy has risen to nine. It could yet rise further. In view of what happened in such a busy tunnel it could have been very much worse. For many years simple visual inspections have been all that has been carried out in Japan on such structures. Now urgent thorough inspections will be carried with appropriate action taken.
It is now believed that in the Sasago tunnel metal rods which held the overhead concrete in place may have become loose. It is now a matter of urgency that other structures are checked and reinforced if necessary.