New Delhi: Attempts to free 41 workers trapped inside the collapsed Silkyara tunnel in Uttarakhand ran into setbacks after parts of the drilling machine got damaged and stuck in the rubble. The authorities are considering two methods forward, to dig manually or vertically from the top of the hill.
According to reports, the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) – which is coordinating the rescue efforts – said that the rescue operations will commence in the next 24-36 hours. The vertical drilling equipment is being prepared at Silkyara, the agency said.
On Saturday, the rescuers were forced to dig by hand to clear the debris after their drilling machine failed.
The 41 workers have been trapped in the Silkyara tunnel, which collapsed on November 12, for two weeks now.
Rescuers were attempting to drill horizontally through 57 metres of rock and concrete when the machine ran into metal rods and construction vehicles that were buried in the earth. This caused the drilling machine, known as an auger, to become damaged just nine metres away from the trapped workers.
“The machine is busted. It is irreparable,” Arnold Dix, an international expert assisting with the rescue, told reporters at the site. “The mountain has once again resisted the auger.”
Government officials said workers would attempt to cut through the final nine meters using hand-held power tools. “We will proceed manually,” Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami told reporters.
Syed Ata Hasnain, a member of the NDMA, said the operation was becoming “more complex” and the process would become slower, compared to when the auger was used to drill. “We have to strengthen our brothers stuck inside. We need to monitor their psychological state, because this operation can go on for a very long time,” he added.
Rescuers have also hatched an alternative plan to reach the survivors from above. A new machine was brought in on Saturday and taken to the top of the hill via a specially-created track.
However, this dig would be almost double the length of the horizontal dig and is a risky route in an area that has already suffered a collapse.
The workers trapped inside the tunnel have been supplied hot meals of rice and lentils through a 15-centimetre pipe.
Oxygen is being supplied through a separate pipe, and a team of doctors including psychiatrists are monitoring their health from outside the tunnel.
The Silkyara tunnel is part of the larger Char Dham highway project to connect Hindu pilgrimage sites in the mountainous state. Experts have repeatedly pointed out that development projects in the fragile region need meticulous planning, which has been lacking. The Wire has pointed out how the dismantling of the environmental impact assessment regime led to a string of disasters in the Himalayan region, where a big infrastructure and development push has been underway in the recent past.
Inputs from DW were used in this article.