Reopened tunnel in fatal collapse closed again by five-car crash

AFP-JIJI, Kyodo

A five-car crash temporarily closed the Sasago Tunnel on Sunday, just a day after the outbound portion was re-opened following a ceiling cave-in that killed nine people four weeks ago, police said.

One person was injured in the crash in the congested tunnel, which is situated on the Chuo Expressway on the west side of Otsuki, Yamanashi Prefecture, and about 80 km from Tokyo.

Although it was a minor accident, the crash temporarily halted traffic for about three hours, delaying drivers leaving Tokyo for their hometowns for the yearend and New Year’s holidays.

Nine people died on Dec. 2 when scores of heavy concrete ceiling panels suspended from the top of the tunnel collapsed on passing vehicles, crushing and setting several ablaze.

Highway authorities had reopened the unaffected westbound passageway of the tunnel after modifying it for two-way traffic on Saturday following the removal of similar ceiling panels. But concerns had been raised about collisions being caused by drivers distracted by fears of another ceiling collapse.

Indeed, some of the drivers who used the tunnel on Saturday said they were driving “while looking up.”