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16 Nov, 2023 08:49

Operation to free dozens from mountain tunnel nears 100 hours

Emergency services are working round the clock to reach the trapped workers in northern India
Operation to free dozens from mountain tunnel nears 100 hours

Efforts to rescue 40 laborers trapped in an under-construction tunnel in northern India entered a fifth day on Thursday, with heavy machinery deployed to cut through the rubble. The work has so far been delayed by rocks falling from the structure’s roof.

On Wednesday, the Hindustan Times reported that rescue crews were using auger machines to dig a way in, seeking to insert large-diameter pipes and create a pathway to the trapped labourers. Eight steel pipes of 900-millimetre diameter and five pipes of 800-millimetre diameter, each six metres long, are being used in the mission.

A portion of the highway tunnel in the mountainous state of Uttarakhand collapsed on Sunday. An engineer now working at the site told ANI news agency that rubble inside the tunnel had fallen six times as of November 14, and the structure’s “span has increased to 70 meters.” 

Powerful equipment has been flown in from New Delhi by an Indian Air Force C-130J aircraft to replace machines that had initially failed to dig a route to the location where the workers are stranded. “I believe that by tomorrow evening or night, everybody will be rescued safely from the tunnel,” the engineer was quoted as saying by the agency.

Pushkar Singh Dhami, the chief minister of the state, has been reviewing rescue efforts and directed local officials to work in tandem with federal agents to ensure the success of the mission. Government officials are also in touch with families of the trapped workers. Dhami has been updating Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the rescue operation.

Around 160 rescue personnel from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), SDRF, Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and Border Roads Organization (BRO) have been mobilized. 

Contact with the 40 workers was established through walkie-talkies hours after the tunnel caved in. On being contacted, they confirmed that all had survived. So far, emergency teams have managed to send in oxygen, food and water via pipes.

The mishap affected a portion of the tunnel being built to connect Silkyara and Dandalgaon in Uttarakhand state, as part of the federal government’s Char Dham all-weather road project. The ambitious scheme, with an estimated cost of 120 billion Indian rupees ($1.5 billion), is intended to improve access to India’s popular Hindu shrines, as well as areas bordering China.

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