Japan inspects tunnels after collapse

Japanese officials ordered the immediate inspection of tunnels across the country Monday after nine people were killed when concrete ceiling slabs fell from the roof of a highway tunnel onto moving vehicles below.

Those killed in Sunday's accident were traveling in three vehicles in the 4.7-km long Sasago Tunnel, about 80 km west of Tokyo. The tunnel, on a highway that links the capital to central Japan, opened in 1977 and is one of many in the mountainous country.

The transport ministry ordered that inspections be carried out immediately on 49 other tunnels around the country that are either on highways or roads managed by the central government and of similar construction.

Police and the highway operator Central Japan Expressway Co. were investigating why the concrete slabs in the Sasago Tunnel collapsed. An inspection of the tunnel's roof in September found nothing amiss, according to Satoshi Noguchi, a company official.

Company President and CEO Takekazu Kaneko said the company was inspecting other tunnels of similar structure, including a parallel tunnel for traffic going in the opposite direction. Both sections of the highway were shut down indefinitely.

Yoshihiro Seto, an officer with Yamanashi prefectural police, said they couldn't rule out more bodies or survivors in the tunnel, but the possibility was low. Goto said they hoped to resume recovery work on Tuesday.

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