For a week, rescuers have dynamited and dug through the rubble of a collapsed tunnel in northern Japan. On Friday the really tough work began: the unearthing of the 20 victims.
Workers on the snowy, windswept northern island of Hokkaido pulled out the first body late in the day. The man had been crushed to death over the steering wheel of his car as he drove to work.
He was killed when a sky-scrapersized rock slid off a mountainside and crashed through the tunnel roof last Saturday, trapping the car and a bus carrying 19 people.
Rescuers have been working since then to remove the massive rock and dig out the victims from the disaster site near a remote seaside village 550 miles north of Tokyo.
The body of 20-year-old store clerk Tatsushi Umemoto was the first to be uncovered. Workers spotted an arm protruding from the buried bus earlier this week, but no progress had been made in digging the body out.
The crash was so powerful that the car was driven into the ground, forcing rescuers to struggle two hours to reach it and the body, police said. A doctor examining Umemoto’s corpse concluded he had been crushed to death.
About 90 percent of the debris had been carted away as of this morning, police said. Extracting the bus victims was expected to take until midday today. Their condition was unknown, though there have been no signs of life under the rubble. Temperatures have been below freezing since the accident, raising fears that any survivors could die of hypothermia.