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Japan Sasago tunnel: Collapse traps cars

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A major road tunnel has collapsed in Japan, trapping a number of vehicles and leaving at least seven people missing, media reports say.

Survivors described how large sections of concrete fell on top of cars in the Sasago tunnel.

A fire broke out and rescuers said a number of charred bodies had been seen.

The incident started at 08:00 local time (23:00 GMT Saturday), about 80km (50 miles) west of Tokyo on a road that links it to the city of Nagoya.

The twin-bore Sasago tunnel is an estimated 4.3km (2.7 miles) long and is on one of the major highways out of Tokyo.

The tunnel is one of the longest in Japan.

Pictures from closed circuit TV cameras inside the tunnel showed a section of up to 100m (328ft) that had caved in on the Tokyo-bound lanes on the Chuo Expressway in Yamanashi prefecture.

Thick black smoke blew out of the tunnel, hampering the rescue, which had to be suspended for several hours because a further collapse was feared.

When it resumed, the first fatalities were found.

A spokesman for Yamanashi Prefectural Police told Agence France-Presse: "A number of charred bodies were confirmed inside. The number of dead is not known."

Our correspondent says there will be serious question about how a major tunnel on one of Japan's most important traffic arteries could have failed so catastrophically, with the private company that runs the highway saying the tunnel had undergone a major inspection just two months ago and had been given a clean bill of health.

Japan is prone to large earthquakes, but none were reported in the area in the morning.

One tunnel expert, Prof Chikaosa Tanimoto, told AFP that earlier quakes or vehicle vibrations could have caused old ceiling panels or pillars to deteriorate.

December 2 2012, 18:34

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