A tunnel on a major highway about 80km west of Tokyo has collapsed, trapping cars and leaving motorists missing, feared dead.

Reports suggest sightings of “charred bodies” after a fire broke out in the tunnel, according to witnesses. Seven people were unaccounted for as of 17:00 local time.

The incident occurred early in the morning but details were slow to emerge as fears of a further collapse meant that rescue efforts were suspended during the afternoon.

First reports came from a reporter from the NHK broadcaster who, according to the Kyodo news agency, described driving through the tunnel as it began to collapse, seeing other cars trapped and on fire. His car was badly damaged, he said.

Another survivor told the broadcaster that he saw “a concrete part of the ceiling fall off all of a sudden when I was driving inside. I saw a fire coming from a crushed car”, says the BBC.

The tunnel is one of the longest in Japan and forms part of the main highway between Tokyo and Nagoya.