Japan Sasago tunnel: Collapse traps cars
A major road tunnel has collapsed in Japan, trapping a number of vehicles and leaving at least seven people missing, media reports say.
Survivors described how large sections of concrete fell on top of cars in the Sasago tunnel.
A fire broke out and rescuers said a number of charred bodies had been seen.
The incident started 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.
The tunnel is one of the longest in Japan.
Pictures from closed circuit TV cameras inside the tunnel showed a section of up to 100m (328ft) that had caved in on the Tokyo-bound lanes on the Chuo Expressway in Yamanashi prefecture.
Thick black smoke was seen coming out of the tunnel, hampering rescuers.
The rescue then had to be suspended for several hours because a further collapse was feared.
When it resumed, the first fatalities were found.
A spokesman for Yamanashi Prefectural Police told Agence France-Presse: “A number of charred bodies were confirmed inside. The number of dead is not known.”
One woman was taken to hospital after she had made her way out of the tunnel.
She said she was with five other people in a van, but added: “I have no idea about what happened to the five others. I don’t know how many vehicles were ahead and behind ours.”
A reporter for the NHK broadcaster described driving through the tunnel as it began to collapse, seeing other cars trapped and on fire. His car was badly damaged, he said.
Another survivor told the broadcaster that he saw “a concrete part of the ceiling fall off all of a sudden when I was driving inside. I saw a fire coming from a crushed car”.
He added that he was “frightened” and walked for an hour to get out of the tunnel.
The Sasago tunnel is an estimated 4.3km (2.7 miles) long.
The twin-bore tunnel is on one of the major highways out of Tokyo, the BBC’s Rupert Wingfield Hayes in Japan reports.
The road has had to be closed because of the seriousness of the accident, our correspondent says.
It is not clear what may have caused the roof to collapse.
Japan is prone to large earthquakes, but none were reported in the area this morning, our correspondent says.
The tunnel’s closure, he says, is expected to bring traffic chaos as thousands of weekend travellers head back to Tokyo on Sunday afternoon.
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