THE JAPAN TIMES, ASAHI SHIMBUN (Japan), BBC NEWS (UK)
TOKYO – The Japanese government has ordered emergency inspections of road tunnels across the country after a roof collapse in the Sasago tunnel, on a highway west of Tokyo, killed nine people.
BBC News says that emergency inspections of at least 20 tunnels of a similar age and design will now be carried out, at the request of Japan’s ministry of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism.
On Sunday morning, concrete panels collapsed and started a fire in the 4.7-kilometer-long Sasago tunnel on the Chuo Expressway in Yamanashi Prefecture; the police have confirmed on Monday morning the deaths of nine motorists trapped in three vehicles in the tunnel, The Japan Times reports.
It is suspected that one of the rods to which the collapsed concrete panels were fixed came loose and triggered a chain reaction. Although Central Nippon Expressway, the operator of the expressway, said it did not detect any defects during a regular check in September, BBC News confirms that an inquiry into the collapse has been launched.
"Based on the fact that the accident occurred 36 years after the tunnel was completed, we believe aging was the reason," Ryoichi Yoshikawa, executive officer of Central Nippon Expressway told Japan’s Asahi Shimbun.