The operators of a highway tunnel which collapsed catastrophically causing the deaths of 9 people have caused outrage with their excuse that the reason safety inspections were not carried out there was “because the inspectors couldn’t reach that high.”
According to the company managing the tunnel, of the 3 tunnels with identical construction it manages, the 35-year-old Sasago tunnel in Yamanashi prefecture was the only one in which they failed to test the bolts securing the 1.2 ton concrete ceiling panels to the roof of the tunnel.
They explained that this was because the anchor bolts at Sasago were higher (reaching the dizzying height of 5m) than the other tunnels and “the workers couldn’t reach them,” so instead they did not bother to test them and “just looked at them instead.”
The highly sophisticated safety tests employed by the industry consist of hitting the bolts with a hammer and listening to whether they sound right, and are required by law as often as every 5 years. The last time they were tested at Sasago was in 2000.
“Daily inspections” were carried out as recently as 2 days before the accident, but as these consisted only of “visual inspections” they detected “no problem” with the tunnel.
9 people died when several hundred concrete panels making up the ceiling of the tunnel fell in sequence onto traffic running through the tunnel, crushing them outright or killing them in the ensuing inferno.
One eyewitness, an NHK reporter, was in the tunnel as it collapsed and ascribed his survival only to the extreme performance of his Subaru Impreza WRX STi, which he floored as soon as the panels began to fall.
Despite being hit by a falling concrete panel, the car made it out of the tunnel with driver unharmed.
The accident was apparently caused by a failure in the bolts securing the tiles to the tunnel roof. Rescuers were also severely hampered by the fact the only ventilation available in the tunnel was destroyed as soon as the panels fell.
The tunnel remains closed indefinitely and emergency safety inspections are being conducted on any tunnel conceivably at risk of the same problem, whilst police have raided the operators.
Opportunistic efforts by concrete loving LDP supporters to pin the disaster on the DPJ’s policy of redirecting public funds “from concrete to people” have largely failed thanks to the inconvenient fact that the tunnel was privately operated, and built and privatised under LDP rule in the first place.