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

(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.

A worker speaks to reporters near the Sasago Tunnel where a collapse took place in Koshu, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012.
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)
This image taken from a monitoring camera shows rescuers looking for the injured among fallen panels in the Sasago Tunnel, Japan, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012.
This image taken from a monitoring camera shows rescuers looking for the injured among fallen panels in the Sasago Tunnel, Japan, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012.   (AP Photo/Kyodo News)
Firefighters and police officers gather at the exit of the Sasago Tunnel, which collapsed, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012. At least seven people were feared missing.
Firefighters and police officers gather at the exit of the Sasago Tunnel, which collapsed, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012. At least seven people were feared missing.   (AP Photo/Kyodo News)
This image taken from a camera of Central Nippon Expressway's Hachioji branch shows fallen roof panels in the Sasago Tunnel, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012.
This image taken from a camera of Central Nippon Expressway's Hachioji branch shows fallen roof panels in the Sasago Tunnel, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012.   (AP Photo/Kyodo News)
Firefighters and rescuers  prepare near the Sasago Tunnel on the Chuo Expressway in Koshu, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012.
Firefighters and rescuers prepare near the Sasago Tunnel on the Chuo Expressway in Koshu, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012.   (AP Photo/Kyodo News)
Smoke billows out of the Sasago Tunnel on the Chuo Expressway in Koshu, Sunday morning, Dec. 2, 2012.
Smoke billows out of the Sasago Tunnel on the Chuo Expressway in Koshu, Sunday morning, Dec. 2, 2012.   (AP Photo/Kyodo News)
Police vehicles are parked at the entrance as smoke billows out of the Sasago Tunnel, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012.
Police vehicles are parked at the entrance as smoke billows out of the Sasago Tunnel, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012.   (AP Photo/Kyodo News)
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