Charred bodies found in Japan tunnel collapse

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Updated 03 December 2012
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Charred bodies found in Japan tunnel collapse

OTSUKI, Japan: Japanese rescuers found five charred bodies in a highway tunnel that collapsed yesterday, crushing cars and triggering a blaze, and sparking fears of another cave-in.
At least seven people were missing inside the nearly five-kilometer long tunnel. Witnesses spoke of terrifying scenes as at least one vehicle burst into flames, sending out clouds of blinding, acrid smoke.
For several hours rescuers were forced to suspend their efforts to reach those believed trapped under the more-than one-ton concrete ceiling panels that crashed from the roof as engineers warned more debris could fall.
Emergency crews who rushed to the Sasago tunnel on the Chuo Expressway, 80 km west of the capital, were hampered by thick smoke billowing from the entrance.
Dozens of people abandoned their vehicles on the Tokyo-bound section of carriageway, and ran for one of the emergency exits or for the mouth, where they huddled in bitter winter weather.
Emergency crews equipped with breathing apparatus battled around a third of the way into the tunnel, where they found 110 meters of concrete panels had come crashing down, crushing at least two vehicles.
Hours after the collapse, engineers warned the structure could be unstable, forcing rescuers to halt their work as a team of experts assessed the danger. It was during this inspection that accompanying police officers confirmed the first deaths.

“What we found resembled bodies inside a vehicle, they were blackened. We have visually confirmed them but have yet to take them out for closer examination,” an official said.
The Fire and Disaster Management Agency later confirmed there were five bodies, adding another vehicle had also been burned.

One man who fled the tunnel told the Jiji Press news agency he had watched in horror as concrete crashed down onto a vehicle in front of him, leaving little more than a mound of dust and debris.
Voices cried out “Help” and “Anyone please help” from the pile before a young woman emerged with her clothes torn, he was reported as saying.
She could not stop trembling, he told the agency, as he asked her how many had been inside the vehicle.
“She said: ‘All of my friends and my boyfriend...Please help them,’” said the man, adding the flames were too strong.
Footage from security cameras in the late afternoon showed large concrete panels in a V shape, apparently having collapsed from the middle, with teams of men in protective gear scrambling over them.
A fire department official said workers were still trying to reach a van in which at least one person was believed trapped.
Chikaosa Tanimoto, professor emeritus of tunnel engineering at Osaka University told NHK the concrete panels are suspended from pillars.
“It is conceivable that the parts connecting the ceiling panels and pillars, or pillars themselves, have deteriorated, affected by vibrations from earthquakes and passing vehicles,” he said.
An official from highways operator NEXCO said material degradation was a possibility, adding the risk of further collapse remained. His colleague said the ceiling had undergone its regular five-yearly inspection in September this year.
An AFP reporter said two large orange tents had been erected at the tunnel mouth and a helicopter remained nearby, ready to ferry the injured to hospital.
The tunnel, which passes through hills near Mount Fuji, is one of the longest in Japan. It sits on a major road connecting Tokyo with the center and west of the country.
A man in his 30s, who was just 50 meters ahead of the caved-in spot, recounted details of the terrifying experience.
“A concrete part of the ceiling fell off all of a sudden when I was driving inside. I saw fire coming from a crushed car. I was so frightened I got out of my car right away and walked one hour to get outside,” he told NHK.
Japan has an extensive web of highways with thousands of tunnels, usually several hundred meters long. Millions of cars use the network every day.


Hawaii helicopter evacuation readied as new lava stream hits ocean

Updated 38 min 31 sec ago
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Hawaii helicopter evacuation readied as new lava stream hits ocean

  • Six huge fissures sent rivers of molten rock through a blackened, volcanic wilderness that was once jungle, farmland and rural homes
  • Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, entered the fourth week of what may be an unprecedented, simultaneous eruption at its summit crater

PAHALA: A third lava flow from Hawaii’s erupting Kilauea volcano streamed into the ocean on Thursday as US Marine Corps helicopters stood by to evacuate a Big Island community should molten rock or huge cracks block its final escape route.
Six huge fissures sent rivers of molten rock through a blackened, volcanic wilderness that was once jungle, farmland and rural homes.
Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, entered the fourth week of what may be an unprecedented, simultaneous eruption at its summit crater and along a six-mile (9.7-km) string of fissures 25 miles (40 km) down its east flank. At about 6 p.m. local time on Thursday, the volcano erupted at its summit, sending ash 10,000 feet (3000 m) into the air. The wind may carry ash to the southwest toward the Pahala area, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said.
At least 50 rural homes and other structures have been destroyed by lava from fissures in a small area of the Big Island. Some 2,000 people have faced mandatory evacuations and another 2,000 in coastal communities may be forced to leave their homes if State Highway 130, their last exit, becomes blocked.
The US Marine Corps deployed two CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters to Hilo, about 24 miles north (39 miles), in support of a task force standing by in case an air evacuation is needed. Each helicopter can carry up to 50 people at a time.
“We now have the capacity to evacuate all of the estimated population of lower Puna south of the lava flow within a few hours,” Brig. Gen. Kenneth Hara of the Hawaii National Guard said in a statement.
Road crews dumped material into cracks on the road and covered them with steel plates in an effort to keep the highway open.
“Talks and discussions have been underway for possible air evacuations if it did come to that,” Tim Sakahara, Hawaii Department of Transportation, told reporters in a conference call.
Up at Kilauea’s 4,091-foot (1,246-meter) summit, at least 12 explosions a day on average are pumping ash plumes thousands of feet (meters) into the sky. Ash drifted up to 26 miles (42 km)southwest to dust the black sands of Punaluu beach with gray powder before blowing out to sea.
Down on the east flank of the volcano, six fissures re-erupted in lava fountains, as volcanic activity moved west toward Highway 130.
Geologists said that after three weeks of escalating activity, Kilauea volcano has entered a “steady state” of eruption.
“It’s probably going to do this for a little while longer,” said US Geological Survey scientist Wendy Stovall on the conference call, describing the stage of the eruption as the “middle” or “kind of the steady state.”
While a roughly 10-square-mile (26-sq-km) area of the Puna district has been ravaged, authorities stressed the eruption was having limited effects on the Connecticut-sized island that is a major tourist destination.
Norwegian Cruise Line said it would reinstate port calls to the island’s two largest cities, Kona and Hilo, after canceling them in recent weeks. Crystal Symphony cruises also said it planned to return to the two ports after canceling a Wednesday Hilo stop due to “an abundance of caution.”