For the seventh consecutive day, forty workers found themselves ensnared in a collapsed road tunnel in northern India.
Rescue operations were temporarily halted on Friday when the drilling machinery suffered damage to its bearings due to the relentless task of breaking rocks and clearing debris. This unexpected setback added another layer of complexity to the already-protracted rescue mission.
Rescuers dig to reach 40 workers trapped in collapsed road tunnel in north India
Officials announced that a replacement machine was anticipated to arrive at the accident site later on Saturday. Once in place, rescuers would resume drilling efforts, aiming to provide the trapped workers with a pathway to freedom, thus renewing hopes for a successful rescue.
On Thursday, authorities initiated drilling into the rubble and debris, covering a distance of 24 meters (79 feet), according to Devendra Patwal, a disaster management official. However, to facilitate the escape of the trapped workers, it may necessitate drilling up to 60 meters (197 feet), Patwal informed The Associated Press on Friday.
Rescuers race against time to free construction workers trapped in Indian tunnel
Initial plans aimed to complete the drilling and construct an escape tunnel made of welded-together pipes by Friday night. Unfortunately, the operation faced a setback when a loud cracking sound emanated from within the tunnel, leading authorities to pause drilling upon discovering damaged machine parts, as reported by Tarun Kumar Baidya, director at the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited, from the accident site.
As the rescue operation extended into its seventh day, the families of those trapped expressed frustration and anger. Relatives from various states spent nights near the tunnel, seeking updates, and the recent setback heightened their concerns.
Krishna Patel, whose 20-year-old nephew is among the trapped, voiced his frustration, stating,
“The administration keeps changing the timeline for when they may be rescued. It’s very frustrating.”
While some workers experienced fever and body aches on Wednesday, officials noted no deterioration in their condition. Nuts, roasted chickpeas, popcorn, and medicine are being sent to them every two hours through a pipe.
Patwal mentioned that two doctors at the accident site are regularly in contact with the trapped workers to ensure their physical and mental well-being. He emphasized the efforts to maintain the spirits of both rescuers and the trapped individuals during this challenging time.
The construction workers became trapped on Sunday due to a landslide that caused a section of the 4.5-kilometer (2.8-mile) tunnel they were building to collapse about 200 meters (650 feet) from the entrance. The hilly area is prone to landslides and subsidence.
Uttarakhand, the mountainous state where the incident occurred, attracts many pilgrims and tourists due to its Hindu temples. Constant highway and building construction aims to accommodate the influx, with the tunnel being part of the Chardham all-weather road project connecting various Hindu pilgrimage sites.
Approximately 200 disaster relief personnel are on-site using drilling equipment and excavators for the rescue operation. The plan involves pushing 80-centimeter-wide (2.6-foot-wide) steel pipes through an opening in the excavated debris.
A machine used earlier in the week was replaced with an American Auger machine capable of drilling up to 5 meters (16 feet) per hour and equipped with a 99-centimeter (3.2-foot) diameter pipe to clear debris. Another American Auger is awaited to replace the damaged one.
State officials have reached out to Thai experts who aided in the 2018 rescue of a youth soccer team trapped in a cave and have also approached the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute for possible assistance.