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File photo of the Sasago Tunnel, which collapsed trapping several vehicles and leaving at least five people dead. Wikimedia Commons

At least five dead after busy traffic tunnel collapses in Japan

The people died after being trapped inside a burning vehicle after the tunnel collapsed, 80km outside Tokyo.

RESCUERS IN JAPAN have confirmed at least five people died after being trapped inside their burning vehicle in a highway tunnel that collapsed today.

“A number of charred bodies were confirmed inside” a vehicle, a spokesman for Yamanashi Prefectural Police told AFP.

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency later confirmed there were five bodies, adding another vehicle had also been burned inside the Sasago Tunnel.

“Other vehicles are believed to have been buried,” it said in a statement released late afternoon.

A local fire department spokesman said it may take a while for rescue workers to remove the bodies and to find other people who were trapped inside.

“We are going into the tunnel and clearing debris. There is no telling as to when we can actually pull the individuals out,” he told AFP.

The discovery of burned corpses was reported as police officers, a local professor and highway engineers surveyed the extent of the collapse inside the tunnel, a fire service spokesman said.

The search-and-rescue operation, which had been suspended because of the risk of another collapse, was back on by late afternoon.

A team of 14 rescue workers returned to the tunnel at 4:16 pm shortly after the bodies were found, along with heavy equipment, including car transporters, the fire brigade spokesman said.

- © AFP, 2012

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