Indian authorities are working to rescue dozens of construction workers who have been trapped in a tunnel collapse in the northern state of Uttarakhand for more than a week.
The workers were building a highway tunnel in the mountainous region last Sunday when it collapsed. Indian officials said all workers are safe and are being supplied with food and water, but attempts to rescue them so far have not yet succeeded.
The office of the state’s Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami issued a statement on the social media platform X on Monday, saying: “The work of evacuating the workers trapped in the tunnel is going on at a fast pace. During this period, the government is making arrangements for the travel and accommodation of the workers’ families.”
The rescuers are creating an access road to the top of the hill from where the vertical drilling is to start Monday evening, said Devendra Patwal, a disaster management official overseeing the rescue efforts at the site in Uttarakhand state.
Drilling to the tunnel will take a few days and debris could fall during the digging, Patwal said.
A total of 40 people are inside, and there remain challenges as rescuers try to get to the workers.
Anshu Manish Khalkho, director of state-run highway management company National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL), told reporters on Monday that India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has sent two robots – one weighing 20 kg and another weighing 50 kg – that can assist in the rescue.
“My apprehension is that the soil is very sand-like, so we can’t be sure whether the robots will be able to operate on such a surface,” Khalko said in Hindi.
Khalkho said they are waiting for additional machinery at the site.
“The machinery has been mobilized, it should be here within a day or two,” he said, adding that since the machinery is quite heavy, it could not be airlifted to the site of the rescue.
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Uttarakhand is dotted with Hindu temples, and highway and building construction has been constant to accommodate the influx of pilgrims and tourists. The tunnel is part of the Chardham all-weather road, a flagship federal project connecting various Hindu pilgrimage sites.
About 200 disaster relief personnel have been at the site using drilling equipment and excavators in the rescue operation.
The horizontal drilling effort involved a machine breaking through rocks and debris to create a space to insert pipes through which the trapped workers could crawl out, but it was halted after the machine was damaged. The machine’s high-intensity vibrations also caused more debris to fall.
Drilling vertically from the top of the hill could also cause debris, but officials said they would use a technique designed for unstable ground.
The rescuers will need to dig 103 meters (338 feet) to reach the trapped workers — nearly double than if they carried on digging from the front.
Officials said the efforts to reach the workers from the horizontal tunnel would continue.
— With files from Associated Press
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