On February 3rd, the Central Japan Expressway Co. opened the side of the Sasago Tunnel to the media for the first time since a fatal partial cave-in took place in early December. Nine people, including a group of five, all in their 20s, were killed when a large number of heavy concrete panels fell from the tunnel’s ceiling as cars drove underneath.
While the panels, each of which weighed more than a ton, and other debris had been cleared, the damage was still visible to those taken inside the Yamanashi Prefecture tunnel. With the opposite side open for traffic, the Tokyo-bound passage displayed the signs of the collapse for a near 100-meter stretch, including concrete reinforcement rods openly exposed, described as if the structure had been torn apart. Bereaved family members placed flowers on the ground for those who were lost. The section of road where the van carrying the group of five was crushed had been partially melted and discolored due to fire.
63 year old Shinichi Ishikawa, the father of victim Yuri Ishikawa, 28, was one of the first to see inside the day before, saying that it was heartbreaking to think about the fact that his daughter might still be alive if the car she was in had been driving just a little faster. Emergency inspections held just after the accident revealed that the Sasago Tunnel, first built in 1977, hadn’t had any repair work done in its lifetime, followed by the fact that a large number of defects, including loosened bolts and cracks, were found despite a recent check-up reporting no problems. In January, the families of the five young victims who were traveling through the tunnel together filled a criminal complain against the tunnel’s operator, accusing the company’s president and other officials be held responsible for criminal negligence resulting in death.
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