Digging to rescue 41 workers trapped in tunnel in India halted as machine breaks

25 November 2023, 13:34

Rescuers rest at the site of the collapsed tunnel
India Tunnel Collapse. Picture: PA

The workers have been trapped since November 12.

Attempts to reach 41 construction workers stuck in a collapsed tunnel in northern India for two weeks have been hampered again.

Rescuers had been working by hand to remove debris after the drilling machine they were using broke down a day earlier while making its way through the debris of rock, stones and metal, but the operation was halted on Saturday.

Arnold Dix, an international expert assisting the rescue team at the accident site in the state of Uttarakhand, said it is unclear when the drilling will be able to start again.

“The machine is busted. It is irreparable,” he told reporters.

Mr Dix said the rescuers would need to pull out the entire drilling machine and replace it to restart the digging. He did not specify how much time it would take.

The workers have been trapped since November 12 when a landslide caused a portion of the 2.8-mile tunnel they were building to collapse about 650 feet from the entrance.

The mountainous terrain in the area has proven to be a challenge for the drilling machine, which had earlier broken twice as rescue teams attempted to dig horizontally towards the trapped workers.

Rescuers rest at the site of a collapse tunnel in India
Dozens of construction workers have been trapped for nearly two weeks (AP)

The machine stopped working after it had drilled about 6.5 feet of the last stretch of 40 feet of rock debris that would open a passage for the workers to come out from the tunnel.

Rescuers have inserted pipes into the dug-out channel and welded them together to serve as a passageway from where the men would be pulled out on wheeled stretchers. About 151 feet of pipe has been put in so far, according to Devendra Patwal, a disaster management officer.

Meanwhile, a new drilling machine used to dig vertically was brought to the accident site on Saturday.

The vertical dig is seen as an alternative plan to reach the trapped men, and the rescuers have already created an access road to the top of the hill. However, rescue teams will need to dig 338 feet downwards to reach the trapped workers — nearly double the distance of the horizontal shaft.

Haridwar Sharma waits for news of his brother Sushil, who is among those trapped
Haridwar Sharma waits for news of his brother Sushil, who is among those trapped (AP)

Authorities have supplied the trapped workers with hot meals made of rice and lentils through a small pipe after days when they survived on dry food sent through an even narrower pipe.

Oxygen is being supplied through a separate pipe, and more than a dozen doctors, including psychiatrists, have been at the accident site monitoring their health.

Most of the trapped workers are migrant labourers from across the country. Many of their families have travelled to the accident site, where they have camped out for days to get updates on the rescue effort and in hope of seeing their relatives soon.

The tunnel the workers were building was designed as part of the Chardham all-weather road, which will connect various Hindu pilgrimage sites. Some experts say the project, a flagship initiative of the federal government, will exacerbate fragile conditions in the upper Himalayas, where several towns are built on top of landslide debris.

Large numbers of pilgrims and tourists visit Uttarakhand’s many Hindu temples, with the number increasing over the years due to the continued construction of buildings and roads.

By Press Association

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