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Last of 20 Bodies Recovered From Collapsed Tunnel in Japan

February 18, 1996|From Times Wire Services

FURUBIRA, Japan — The last of 20 bodies crushed in a collapsed tunnel was pulled out late Saturday, bringing sad relief to this close-knit fishing village after a week of painful waiting.

Rescuers worked into the night in the seaside tunnel, 550 miles north of Tokyo, struggling to remove body parts still wedged among the boulders.

There were no survivors from the cave-in that occurred about 8 a.m. on Feb. 10 when a boulder the size of a skyscraper slipped from a mountainside and crashed into the tunnel, trapping 19 people aboard a bus and a man in a car.

A police spokesman said the body of the lone motorist was found first, and then 19 bodies were found in the bus.

Rescuers began bringing out the bodies from the bus Saturday afternoon. By early today, all had been identified and returned to their families. Digging will continue today so authorities can be sure there were no other victims.

Holding their heads in their hands, sobbing family members were led through heavy snow to a makeshift morgue at a fisheries research center.

Police said all 20 victims had been crushed to death but stopped short of saying whether all had died instantly. Fears had run high that survivors would not have withstood the freezing temperatures as the rescue effort dragged on.

The 3,563-foot tunnel is located about 30 miles northwest of Sapporo, the regional capital of Hokkaido island in northern Japan.

During the week, rescuers used dynamite, heavy earthmoving equipment and their bare hands in an unsuccessful race against time to rescue the victims from their icy tomb.

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