Japan orders emergency tunnel inspections after nine are killed by roof collapse

Two people were also injured when concrete ceiling panels collapsed onto cars on Sunday morning

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The Independent Online

Japan ordered emergency inspections of highway tunnels across the country after one collapsed on Sunday killing nine people.

Two people were also injured when a 110 metre (360 feet) long section of the tunnel's concrete ceiling panels collapsed onto cars on Sunday morning along the Chuo Expressway in Yamanashi prefecture, about 80 km (50 miles) west of Tokyo.

"The Prime Minister ordered the transport ministry to put the utmost efforts into rescuing victims, to quickly investigate the cause of the accident and to establish measures to prevent similar accidents, and to provide a counselling service to victims to take care of them," Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told a news conference on Monday.

The Land Ministry ordered highway companies with similar concrete panels in tunnels to make emergency inspections.

An official from the highway operator, Central Nippon Expressway (Nexco), said the metal rods used to secure the concrete panels to the walls in the 4.7 km tunnel may have become loose.

"At this moment we're presuming that the top anchor bolts had come loose," Nexco's Safety Service Center Chief Motohiro Takamisawa told local media.

The ceiling panels had not been repaired or reinforced since they were built in 1977 but passed safety checks in September, public broadcaster NHK reported.

In 1996 a tunnel in Hokkaido, northern Japan, collapsed and falling rocks crushed cars and a bus, killing 20 people.