TOKYO (AP) — Authorities in Japan say several people are known to have died in a highway tunnel where about 150 concrete panels fell from the roof.
The precise number of fatalities is unclear. Several vehicles are believed to have been buried in the tunnel 50 miles outside Tokyo, on the main highway linking Tokyo with central Japan.
Efforts to rescue survivors trapped inside the tunnel have been hindered by heavy smoke after one vehicle caught fire. Fears of a further collapse also prompted rescuers to suspend their work temporarily.
The Fire and Disaster Management Agency says five people were confirmed to have been in a car that burned inside the tunnel, and at least one other person was in a truck.
Executives for Central Japan Expressway Co. say the company is investigating why the concrete panels gave way. They say nothing was found amiss when the tunnel's roof was checked in September and October.
The 3-mile-long tunnel opened in 1977.
154-c-15-(Elaine Kurtenbach (KUR'-tehn-bahk), AP correspondent)-"not everybody did"-AP correspondent Elaine Kurtenbach reports survivors have described the horror of being in the tunnel when large slabs of concrete fell on cars. (2 Dec 2012)
<<CUT *154 (12/02/12)>> 00:15 "not everybody did"
153-c-15-(Elaine Kurtenbach (KUR'-tehn-bahk), AP correspondent)-"dead or alive"-AP correspondent Elaine Kurtenbach reports rescue workers have been scrambling over huge slabs of concrete trying to reach vehicles buried in the rubble. ((refers to midnight Tokyo time, which is 14 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Time) (2 Dec 2012)
<<CUT *153 (12/02/12)>> 00:15 "dead or alive"
022-c-11-(Elaine Kurtenbach (KUR'-tehn-bahk), AP correspondent)-"at that point"-AP correspondent Elaine Kurtenbach reports it's not known what caused the tunnel's cement roof panels to cave in. (2 Dec 2012)
<<CUT *022 (12/02/12)>> 00:11 "at that point"
APPHOTO TOK805: Firefighters and police gather at the entrance of the Sasago Tunnel on the Chuo Expressway in Koshu, Yamanashi Prefecture, central Japan, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012. A part of the tunnel collapsed Sunday morning, possibly involving several vehicles and injuring several people, local media said. (AP Photo/Kyodo News) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT, NO LICENSING IN CHINA, FRANCE, HONG KONG, JAPAN AND SOUTH KOREA (2 Dec 2012)
<<APPHOTO TOK805 (12/02/12)>>