- Created on 03 December 2012
HONG KONG (CNN) -- The mangled wrecks of cars being carried out of Japan's Sasago Tunnel suggest there was little motorists could do to escape the sudden collapse of the ceiling above them.
A day after the disaster, one main theory has emerged as to what caused the collapse, which killed nine people who were trapped in their cars by rubble or the flames that broke out shortly after.
At a press briefing on Monday, the executive officer of the tunnel's operator said it appeared that some "anchor bolts" used to secure concrete slabs to the tunnel ceiling were missing.
"There were parts of concrete (slabs) where bolts had fallen off," Ryoichi Yoshizawa said, according to a spokesman for Central Japan Expressway Company or NEXCO-Central.
"The aging of the bolts or the concrete slabs could be a potential cause (of the collapse)," Yoshizawa said. He did not say how many bolts were found to be missing or how they came to be loose.
Yoshizawa added that while regular checks had been performed on the tunnel, they were visual checks and there was no physical testing.
Emergency inspections have been ordered on 49 tunnels across the country with the same ceiling structure, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.
There are 1,575 highways tunnels in Japan and around a quarter of those are more than 30 years old, including the Sasago Tunnel which opened in 1977, the ministry said.
The tunnel's ceiling gave way on Sunday morning at around 8 a.m. local time. Witnesses recalled the horror of smoke filling up the tunnel as huge concrete slabs rained down on traffic below.
Charred bodies were pulled from the wreckage, including five from a single station wagon. Three others were in a burned vehicle, according to a police spokesperson, while another body was found in a truck.
"It was terrifying. I don't think I could ever drive through the tunnel again," one shaken survivor told TV Asahi, as black and white video released by NEXCO showed rescue workers in flashlight-topped helmets stepping over rubble.
The tunnel has been closed for the removal of debris and while experts ascertain the risk of a secondary accident. NEXCO says it's unsure how long the process could take.
Speaking to reporters at the scene, Motohiro Takamisawa, the chief of NEXCO's Otsuki Safety Center, also referred to a potential problem with the bolts securing the tunnel's ceiling slabs.
"At this moment we're presuming that the top anchor bolts have come loose," he was reported as saying. Takamizawa added that the bolts hadn't been changed since the tunnel first opened in the late 1970s. However, a company spokesman told CNN that Takamizawa's comments should not be interpreted as the company's official statement and that it could not confirm whether that was the case.
One expert told Asahi TV said that it's possible that years of traffic vibrations had contributed to the tunnel's collapse.
"Over the course of 35 years, all the shaking caused by cars has probably caused the bolts and nuts in the tunnel to loosen. As a result they fell off," said Hiroshi Chikahisa, head of the Geosystem Engineering Institute at Yamaguchi University.
Immediately after the disaster, a company spokesman said the Sasago Tunnel, located about 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Tokyo, was subject to annual inspections with more detailed checks every five years. It had been checked in the last couple of months.
At the company's Monday briefing, a NEXCO spokesman said, "There was no record that we have conducted the tapping inspection at top of the ceiling in the tunnel."
He was referring to a method used to identify potential damage within concrete structures that was mentioned in the company's 2011 annual report.
It says, "although hammer tapping test is commonly carried out to investigate concrete structures, it takes enormous time and cost to conduct the test on all concrete structures we have."
Instead, it says the company inspects concrete structures using infrared cameras, an inspection technology which measures the difference in temperature between "sound conditions and damaged areas" to detect potential weak points. There as no explicit reference to testing carried out on tunnels.
The Sasago Tunnel runs for 4.7 kilometers along a stretch of the Chuo Expressway which runs for 367 kilometers, through a mountainous region, connecting Tokyo with the Nagoya in the Chubu region of Japan.
Its operator, NEXCO-Central is one of three companies started in 1995 after the privatization of Japan's Highway Public Corporation. NEXCO-Central manages more than 1,700 kilometers of expressways in Tokyo and the Chubu, Hokuriku and Kinki regions, used by almost 1.9 million cars on any given day.
Journalist Toshi Maeda, CNN's Junko Ogura and Alex Zolbert contributed to this report.
- Created on 30 November 2012
(AP) — Internet service went down Thursday across Syria and international flights were canceled at the Damascus airport when a road near the facility was closed by heavy fighting in the country's civil war.
Activists said President Bashar Assad's regime pulled the plug on the Internet, perhaps in preparation for a major offensive. Cellphone service also went out in Damascus and parts of central Syria, they said. The government blamed rebel fighters for the outages.
With pressure building against the regime on several fronts and government forces on their heels in the battle for the northern commercial hub of Aleppo, rebels have recently begun pushing back into Damascus after largely being driven out of the capital following a July offensive. One Damascus resident reported seeing rebel forces near a suburb of the city previously deemed to be safe from fighting.
The Internet outage, confirmed by two U.S.-based companies that monitor online connectivity, is unprecedented in Syria's 20-month-old uprising against Assad, which activists say has killed more than 40,000 people.
Regime forces suffered a string of tactical defeats in recent weeks, losing air bases and other strategic facilities. The government may be trying to blunt additional rebel offensives by hampering communications.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland condemned what she called the regime's "assault" on Syrians' ability to communicate with each other and express themselves. She said the move spoke to a desperate attempt by Assad to cling to power.
Syrian authorities often cut phone and Internet service in select areas to disrupt rebel communications when regime forces are conducting major operations.
The government sent mixed signals about the Internet outage but denied it was nationwide. The pro-regime TV station Al-Ikhbariya quoted Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi as saying that "terrorists" have targeted Internet cables, interrupting service in several cities.
Separately, state-run TV said the outage was due to a technical failure that affected some provinces, adding that technicians were trying to fix it.
Activists in Syria, reached by satellite telephones unaffected by the outage, confirmed the communications problems.
A young Syrian businessman who lives in an upscale neighborhood of Damascus, which some refer to as part of "the green zone" because it has remained relatively safe, sent a text message to an Associated Press reporter Thursday that said the Internet had been cut in his area and that mobile phone service was cutting out.
He said he was driving Wednesday through the Damascus suburb of Aqraba, near the airport, and saw dozens of rebel fighters for the first time in the area, riding in pickup trucks and motorcycles, and wielding AK-47s.
Their presence so close to the "green zone" may have led to the Internet being cut, said the resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared government reprisal. He said the military was positioned a few hundred meters away from the rebel fighters and had built large speed bumps to enclose the area.
The opposition said the Internet blackout was an ominous sign that the regime was preparing a major offensive.
"I fear that cutting the Internet may be a prelude to a massacre in Damascus," said Adib Shishakly, a Syrian opposition figure from Cairo, Egypt. "The regime feels it is being choked off by rebels who are closing in on the capital from its suburbs. It's a desperate move; they are trying to sever communications between activists."
Renesys, a U.S.-based network security firm that studies Internet disruption, said in a statement that Syria effectively disappeared from the Internet at 12:26 p.m. local time.
"In the global routing table, all 84 of Syria's IP address blocks have become unreachable, effectively removing the country from the Internet," Renesys said. It added that the main autonomous system responsible for Internet in the country is the Syrian Telecommunications Establishment, and that "all of their customer networks are currently unreachable."
Akamai Technologies Inc., another U.S.-based company that distributes content on the Internet, also confirmed the complete outage.
Jim Cowie, the chief technology officer at Renesys, said the abruptness of the outage suggested it wasn't due to a severed cable. Syria has several cables that connect it to the outside world, and all of them would have had to be cut at once for a complete outage. A power outage or an intentional shutdown at central Syrian telecommunications facilities is a more likely cause, he said.
"We saw everything go in three to four minutes, which looks like a light switch," Cowie said.
He said the profile of the outage was similar to what the Egyptian government did in January 2011 during the Arab Spring uprising that toppled longtime leader Hosni Mubarak. Egypt switched off the Internet for five days, halting businesses, banking and — at the height of the demonstrations — the ability of protest leaders to organize and communicate with each other.
Bahrain's Sunni rulers also jammed cellphones during the military offensive on the protesters' encampment in the capital of Manama in March 2011. Internet service remained at a crawl when the Bahrain's military stormed the city's Pearl Square — the headquarters of the revolt — after weeks of street protests.
Ann Harrison, deputy program director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, said in a statement that the group worried the communications were cut in Syria "to shield the truth of what is happening in the country from the outside world."
The shadowy group of hacker-activists known as Anonymous sent out a tweet Thursday saying that as of 9 p.m. (0200 GMT Friday) it would "begin removing from the Internet all web assets belonging to the Assad regime that are NOT hosted in Syria. We will begin with the websites and servers belonging to ALL Syrian Embassies abroad, which we will begin systematically removing from the Internet tonight." It said the first target was the website of the Syrian Embassy in China.
"By turning off the Internet in Syria, the butcher Assad has shown that the time has come for Anonymous to remove the last vestiges of his evil government from the Internet," Anonymous said in its statement.
Thursday's violence appeared to be focused on southern suburbs near the Damascus international airport, forcing the military to shut the road to the facility. The surrounding districts have been strongholds of rebel support since the uprising began.
At the United Nations, the secretary-general's office said at least four soldiers assigned to the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights were injured in the crossfire on the airport road as their unit was heading out for a routine rotation of forces.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the regime has started a major offensive around the airport where rebels have been particularly active in recent weeks.
Abdul-Rahman, who relies on a network of activists in Syria, said large convoys of government reinforcements were seen heading south toward the airport, which is 25 kilometers (15 miles) southeast of Damascus. The fighting was concentrated in and around the suburbs of Aqraba and Beit Saham, he said.
The Syrian Information Ministry later said the airport road was secure after attacks by "terrorist groups" on motorists, according to state TV. It was not immediately clear whether the road had been reopened.
The fighting prompted both Emirates airline and EgyptAir to cancel flights to Damascus.
Despite months of sporadic fighting and deteriorating security in Damascus, the airport has remained open.
But EgyptAir said in a statement that the airline will halt all flights to Damascus and Aleppo starting Friday, until further notice. EgyptAir head Rushdi Zakaria said the decision was due to deteriorating security conditions in Syria.
Syrian TV also said government forces were chasing "al-Qaida elements" around Damascus, mostly in the eastern suburbs of Douma and the southern suburb of Daraya.
The Observatory said the regime used warplanes to hit districts including Daraya, where fighting has raged for days.
The operation around Damascus comes days after rebels made significant advances in the area. Last week, they captured a major helicopter base just outside the capital.
In the southern city of Daraa, where the uprising began, rebels detonated a car bomb near the house of a senior member of the country's ruling Baath Party, killing him and his three bodyguards, activists said. Rebels frequently target regime figures and military commanders.
Associated Press writers Barbara Surk in Beirut, Matthew Lee in Washington, Peter Svensson in New York, Peter James Spielmann at the United Nations, Robert H. Reid in Berlin and Aya Batrawi in Cairo contributed to this report.
- Created on 28 November 2012
Bangladesh (AP) — Clothing and order books found at a Bangladeshi factory where a fire killed 112 people show that it was making clothing for Disney, Wal-Mart, Sears and other Western brands.
Associated Press reporters looked through clothing and documents connected to the retailers Wednesday while police announced the arrests of three factory officials who are suspected of locking in workers who were killed in Saturday's fire.
Piles of children's shorts from Wal-Mart's Faded Glory brand were found among the charred equipment at the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. factory. Blue and off-white shorts from rap star Sean Combs ENYCE label were piled on the floor and stacked in cartons.
Entries in account books in the abandoned factory showed it took orders in recent months to produce clothes for Disney and Sears, despite the factory's spotty safety record.
Calls made to The Walt Disney Company and to Sears Holdings were not immediately returned.
Wal-Mart has said the Tazreen factory was making clothes for the retail giant without its knowledge. Wal-Mart, which had received an audit deeming the factory "high risk" last year, said it had decided to stop doing business with Tazreen, but that a supplier subcontracted work to the factory anyway. Wal-Mart said it stopped working with that supplier on Monday.
Workers who survived the fire say exit doors were locked, fire extinguishers didn't work and managers had told them to go back to work after the fire alarm rang. A fire official has said that far fewer people would have died if there had been just one emergency exit.
Local police chief Habibur Rahman said three factory officials, but not the owner Tazreen Fashions — were arrested and will be questioned about the fire amid reports that many workers trying to escape the blaze had been locked inside. The officials were arrested Wednesday at their homes in Savar, the Dhaka suburb where the factory is also located.
Rahman did not identify the factory officials or give their job status.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Interior Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir have said arson is suspected. Police say they have not ruled out sabotage.
Local TV reports said about 3,000 garment workers held protests over the fire Wednesday, blocking roads and throwing stones at some factories and vehicles. It was the third straight day of demonstrations, and as they did previously, factories in the area closed to avoid violence.
Police used batons to disperse the protesters, but no injuries were immediately reported.
According to local television, most factories in the area closed after opening briefly because of the protests — a common tactic to avoid violence.
- Created on 29 November 2012
GOMA, Congo — The resurgent conflict in the vast African nation of Congo involves several armed groups, at least two other countries and the minerals that go into handhelds and laptops, probably including the one you're reading this story on if you're seeing it on a device.
It's complicated but it boils down to a struggle for wealth, ethnic animosity and a lack of central government control. Here are some of the issues:
Congo is sub-Saharan Africa's biggest country, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to two-thirds of the way across the continent. It is plagued by a lack of roads and railways. The feeble government in the capital Kinshasa is nearly 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) away from Goma, the strategic eastern town that was seized by M23 rebels on Nov. 20. A succession of rebel groups and warlords have for years taken advantage of the power vacuum to get a piece of the mining action in eastern Congo.
Eastern Congo is estimated to have mineral deposits worth trillions of dollars, according to mining experts. The area holds about 70 percent of the world's supply of tantalum, a metal used in cellphones, tablets, laptops and other computers, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The eastern region also has massive amounts of gold, tin, tungsten, copper, coltan and cobalt. Much of the ore mined is smuggled out of Congo and passes through Rwanda, Uganda or Burundi, according to the Enough Project, a Washington-based organization campaigning against conflict minerals. Some 450,000 artisanal miners work in eastern Congo, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The M23 rebel group was formed almost eight months ago by former members of a now defunct insurgent group that had been incorporated into the Congolese army as part of a March 23, 2009, peace agreement. The new group was created by the former rebels who deserted from the army. Their name refers to the date of the peace agreement, which M23 accuses the government of not honoring. Since May, M23 has seized territory in North Kivu province, culminating last week with the capture of Goma, a lakeside city of 1 million and a key trading hub bordering Rwanda.
M23 is believed to have been created by warlord Bosco "The Terminator" Ntaganda, who had been a leader of the former rebel group, the National Congress for the Defense of the People, or CNDP. The CNDP was backed by Rwanda, which also allegedly arms and gives other support to M23. As part of the 2009 agreement, Ntaganda, Ntaganda was made was made a general in the army and deputy commander for an operation meant to go after a militia made of Hutus who took part in Rwanda's genocide. In early 2012, Congolese President Joseph Kabila came under international pressure to arrest Ntaganda and transfer him to the Hague to face war crimes charges in the International Criminal Court. Ntaganda avoided immediate arrest, launched a mutiny and was joined by some loyal men who are believed to have formed M23. Kabila, whose father had led a rebellion in 1997 that toppled dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, had also vowed to dismantle a parallel chain of command that Ntaganda established in eastern Congo's North Kivu and South Kivu provinces. Ntaganda had operated lucrative businesses with other army officers in the east, including a smuggling racket taking minerals into neighboring Rwanda, according to a U.N. report released on Nov. 21.
Uganda has also supported the M23, although on a smaller scale, said the U.N. report. This has allegedly been driven by a few powerful Ugandans intent on profiteering from access to Congo's rich mineral resources. Uganda denies supporting M23. The rebels feel comfortable in Uganda and can come and go as they wish. Their external relations official is now based in Kampala, Uganda's capital. The U.N. report did not accuse Uganda of orchestrating an official policy of backing the rebels, but it said some within the military were using their influence to procure arms and ammunition for the rebels. The U.N. investigators even claim that units of the Rwandan and Ugandan armies have fought alongside M23 soldiers against the Congolese army. A "mixed brigade" of Rwandan and Ugandan soldiers allegedly numbered more men than the massed ranks of the M23 forces, said the U.N. report.
The Congolese army – underfed, poorly supplied and rarely paid – have repeatedly retreated in the face of M23 attacks. Even if the rebels withdraw from Goma now, military experts say the well-organized, well-supplied M23 will remain to seize the key city again. U.N. investigators claim that the ultimate goal of M23 and Rwanda is the annexation of the North and South Kivu provinces and the region's mineral wealth. They say the battle for Goma may be just the beginning of a long and bloody conflict for control of eastern Congo.
- Created on 27 November 2012
Sacha Dratwa, 26, head of the New Media Desk for the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), spent a day at the the Dead Sea's mud baths and posted a blackface photo of himself with the controversial comment "Obama style."
The recent conflict between Israel and Hamas has put Dratwa into the public limelight because of his role as the lieutenant behind IDF's social media campaign. He is in charge of IDF's official Twitter page and has become the most media-visible branch of the IDF.
"I'm not a racist, please stop [spreading] lies about me," Dratwa said in response to criticism his tweet has received.
The backlash from this photo has forced Dratwa to block public access to his Facebook account completely.