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Poison gas suspected after 2 Japanese workers die down manhole

The building housing Ibaraki Prefectural Police headquarters is seen in this file photo taken in Mito. (Mainichi)

MITO -- At around 7:50 p.m. on Oct. 20, two men engaged in work to remove sludge from sewage lines in the city of Tsuchiura, Ibaraki Prefecture, eastern Japan, fell some 7 meters to the bottom of a manhole and were later confirmed dead in hospital.

    The pair spent about two-and-a-half hours at the bottom before they were removed and sent to hospital. Both hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide were detected at the scene, and Ibaraki Prefectural Police's Tsuchiura Police Station and others are investigating the cause of the accident.

    Both of the deceased were company employees. 41-year-old Yosuke Saeki was a resident of Tsuchiura, while Yuki Okano, 38, lived in the neighboring city of Tsukuba. According to police, four men including the two who lost their lives were working at the scene to remove sewage sludge. After the work, Saeki was climbing a ladder out of the manhole when he suddenly fell. Okano, who went to help him, also lost consciousness and collapsed.

    The Tsuchiura Municipal Government apparently commissioned the company employing Saeki and the others to clear a blockage in the main pipe of the sewage line. According to the fire department, it received an emergency call around 8 p.m. from one of the workers, who told them, "A man collapsed after working in the sewers, and another man who went to help has also fallen unconscious. It's possible that there's toxic gas out there."

    (Japanese original by Kazuki Kawashima, Mito Bureau)

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