TOKYO: At least nine people are confirmed dead after several vehicles were crushed in the collapse of a highway tunnel between Tokyo and Mount Fuji, Japanese police said.
Five bodies were recovered from a van destroyed when parts of a concrete ceiling tumbled inside the Sasago tunnel along the Chuo expressway about 85 kilometres west of Tokyo, said Yoshihiro Seto, a spokesman for the police in Yamanashi prefecture.
Search for missing in Japanese tunnel disaster
Rescuers try to reach several people missing after a road tunnel collapse in Koshu, west of Tokyo.
The bodies of three people in a passenger vehicle and the driver of a freezer truck were also recovered, he said.
‘‘Right now, we are removing the fallen pieces and reinforcing parts of the tunnel to prevent secondary accidents,’’ Mr Seto said.
All vehicles had been removed from the tunnel and authorities were investigating whether there were more victims, he said.
The charred bodies in the van were of three men and two women, Jiji Press said. The truck driver was identified as 50-year-old Tatsuya Nakagawa, who contacted his firm immediately after the incident to ask for help, the national broadcaster, NHK, said.
The three other deaths were confirmed as an elderly man and two elderly women, who were in the same passenger vehicle, Kyodo News said. Local police officials could not be reached for immediate confirmation.
Video from security cameras inside the tunnel showed large concrete panels that had apparently fallen from the ceiling. Police had launched a negligence probe, Jiji Press said. The Chuo expressway links Tokyo to Nagoya, Japan’s fourth-largest city.
The transport ministry would order an emergency inspection of tunnels across the country with a similar design as the four-kilometre Sasago Tunnel, said Takashi Ito, who works in the planning department at the ministry.
‘‘We still do not know the cause of the accident,’’ said Satoshi Noguchi, a spokesman for Central Nippon Expressway, which operates the route.
The tunnel was built in 1976. The company said it found no abnormality during a regular inspection of the tunnel in September.
The chief executive of Central Nippon, Takekazu Kaneko, made a public apology, NHK reported.
Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse