Survivors talk of horror amid debris, fire

December 03, 2012 - 6:52:11 am

Otsuki, Japan: A man who survived a tunnel collapse in Japan spoke yesterday of how a woman who crawled from a mound of debris begged him to help her friends and boyfriend trapped in a burning vehicle.

Another told of how he fled with his wife and children after trying and failing to get into a flaming car to rescue people inside in a horrifying incident on a highway that has so far claimed at least five lives.

Witnesses spoke of scenes of confusion in the nearly five-kilometre (three mile)-long tunnel, which passes through hills near Mount Fuji, as cars drove the wrong way to try to escape the cave-in and ensuing fire.

Officials have said five charred bodies have been found inside the tunnel on one of Japan’s most important roads. They earlier said at least seven people were missing.

Other vehicles were believed to have been buried when the 20-centimetre-thick concrete roof panels caved in on the Tokyo-bound side of the Sasago tunnel, around 80 kilometres from the capital.

One man 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.

Tomohiro Suzuki, 37, said he had jumped out of his car and rushed towards a vehicle that had been crushed by the fallen concrete, in a bid to rescue people inside. “A part of the ceiling, just as wide as the road, had collapsed straight down and broken in the middle into a V-shape,” he told Jiji, adding there was a fire in its bonnet. “I called the police as I thought it was impossible for me to rescue anyone inside.”

Suzuki said people in the tunnel were in panic, with cars starting to drive the wrong way to try to get out.

He gathered up his 38-year-old wife, Nishiki, and their two children, six and nine, and hurried them to safety as several dozen people rushed to get out.

“I was anxious as I could not see the exit,” he said.

“I kept wondering when the fire would spread and catch us. I tried to let my children get away first of all.” AFP

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