7 Missing in Japan Tunnel Collapse
An unknown number die in massive underground collapse
By Polly Davis Doig, Newser Staff
Posted Dec 2, 2012 8:50 AM CST
A worker speaks to reporters near the Sasago Tunnel where a collapse took place in Koshu, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012.   (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

(Newser) – A 330-foot section of a major road tunnel in central Japan collapsed this morning, leaving seven people missing and an unknown number dead as billowing smoke from burning vehicles and fear of a further collapse thwarted rescuers. "A number of charred bodies were confirmed inside," a police spokesman says; rescuers are already being criticized over reports they took three hours to arrive on the scene.

About 150 concrete ceiling panels caved at about 8am local time, reports the BBC, and the scene was hellish: "A concrete part of the ceiling fell off all of a sudden when I was driving inside," says one man who escaped. "I saw a fire coming from a crushed car." Says a woman: "I could hear voices of people calling for help, but the fire was just too strong." The tunnel is one of the longest in Japan.