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JAPAN

Police raid Japan tunnel operator after collapse

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 December, 2012, 11:28am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 December, 2012, 11:28am
 

Police were searching the offices on Tuesday of the company operating an expressway tunnel where hundreds of concrete ceiling slabs collapsed onto moving vehicles below, killing nine people.

Those killed in Sunday’s accident were travelling in three vehicles in the 4.7-kilometre long Sasago Tunnel about 80 kilometres west of Tokyo. The transport ministry has ordered inspections of 49 other highway and road tunnels of similar construction around the mountainous country. The tunnel, on a highway that links the capital to central Japan, opened in 1977.

About a dozen uniformed police were shown on television entering the headquarters of Central Japan Expressway Company early on Tuesday, toting cardboard and plastic boxes.

“Yes they are searching our offices here. We will be fully cooperating with them,” said Osamu Funahashi, an official at the government-owned company.

Police and the highway operator are 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, another company official.

An estimated 270 concrete slabs, each weighing 1.4 metric tons, suspended from the arched roof of the tunnel fell over a stretch of about 110 metres, 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 metres by 1.2 metres, and 8 centimetres thick, were installed when the tunnel was constructed in 1977.

Recovery work at the tunnel was suspended on 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.

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