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Uttarakhand Tunnel Collapse: 'First Breakthrough' Reported, But No Timeline For Rescue

Two parallel tunnels will now act as a route of escape, new reports have said.
The collapsed Uttarakhand tunnel. Photo: X/@airnewsalerts

New Delhi: New rescue plans are in the works as 40 workers continue to be trapped in a tunnel in Uttarakhand for the eighth consecutive day.

BBC India has reported that a cracking sound heard during an operation to insert metal pipes into the debris and build an escape route for the workers.

Other news outlets are reporting that the government has drawn up a “five-point” rescue plan.

The BBC report has noted that the number of trapped workers is 41. Until today, the number was reported to have been 40.

Two parallel tunnels will now act as a route of escape, the outlet reported workers as having said.

On November 12, a landslide in the ecologically sensitive area caused a part of the under-construction tunnel to cave in.

Indian Express, meanwhile, has reported that the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has created an access road for the machines to reach the top of the hill, from where a lifeline pipe will be drilled.

The Uttarakhand Disaster Management Secretary Ranjit Sinha had on November 19 told the news agency ANI, “We are inserting a 900mm diameter pipe with the help of the Auger machine. We have reached 22 meters and we are going ahead rapidly. There is a lifeline pipe for sending food and other necessary items.”

The workers have been given dry fruits, puffed rice and nuts.

‘First breakthrough’

PTI reported on Monday evening that rescuers were able to push through a six-inch-wide pipeline through the rubble of the collapsed tunnel, a breakthrough that will help them supply larger quantities of food and possibly allow live visuals of the 41 workers trapped inside for eight days.

“It’s the first achievement,” an official told PTI after the installation of a 6-inch pipe in the tunnel on Monday evening. “Now, we have to accomplish the second, which is the most vital one. When they receive food, they’ll feel a bit better psychologically, and we will also try to establish communication with them.”

National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) director Anshu Manish Khalkho called it the “first breakthrough” at the site, according to PTI. “We have sent the pipe 53 metres to the other side of the rubble and the trapped workers can hear and experience us,” he told PTI.

“We will send food, mobile, and charger to the people who are trapped inside the tunnel. We will also try to install a WiFi connection inside. DRDO robots are also working,” NHIDCL General Manager Colonel Deeapk Patil, who is heading the rescue efforts, told ANI.

International tunnelling expert Arnold Dix, who has been roped in for the rescue efforts by authorities, expressed satisfaction at the efforts so far, reported PTI. He called the progress between yesterday and today “extraordinary”.

“I have just been down in the tunnel,” Dix, who heads the Geneva-based International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association, told reporters on Monday. “Enormous amount of work has been done there in preparation, and we are just coming up here at the top of the mountain to consider other options as well.”

No timeline yet; opposition asks for CBI inquiry

However, Dix did not give a timeline for the rescue, reported PTI.

Meanwhile, Leader of the Opposition in the Uttarakhand Assembly Yashpal Arya of the Indian National Congress also visited the site on Monday but was not allowed inside the tunnel, reported PTI. Arya has demanded a CBI inquiry monitored by the Chief Justice of the Uttarakhand High Court to find out if the execution of the project was given to an inexperienced firm and if that led to the disaster, PTI also reported.

More options being considered

Per PTI, authorities are also looking at another option of drilling more than 80 metres down into the hill to reach the workers. A road has been laid for heavy drilling machinery used by the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) to be transported to the top, per the news agency.

According to a press release on Monday evening by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, the first machine of the Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (SJVNL, a Central Public Sector Enterprise under the Ministry of Power) for the construction of the vertical rescue tunnel has already reached the tunnel site and operations are being commenced post completion of access road by Border Roads Organisation. Movement of two other machines for the vertical tunnel construction have also started from Gujarat and Odisha by road, per the release. The machinery for vertical boring is being mobilised by the ONGC from the United States, Mumbai and Ghaziabad.

Meanwhile, work on the construction of a rescue tunnel of 480 metres from the Barkot end by THDC India Limited under the Ministry of Power has also commenced, the release read.

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