The Uttarakhand tunnel rescue ops, going on for six days, have hit another roadblock. The drilling operations have been put on hold after 2:45 pm, said officials, adding that a meeting of experts has been called.
The 40 workers are trapped inside the 4.5-km Silkyara tunnel since Sunday morning when a part of the under-construction structure near Uttarkashi collapsed following a landslide.
“During the execution of the work at around 2:45 pm, a large scale cracking sound was heard by officials and the team working inside the tunnel and created a panic situation in the tunnel as well as to the team working,” the National Highways & Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) said in a statement, adding that there’s a “strong possibility that a further collapse may take place and accordingly pipe pushing activity has been stopped”.
Also, to cope with the situation, a meeting was called with all the officials and other experts of various organisations, the statement added.
Rescue efforts have been slowed by debris continuing to fall as workers laboured to clear the tunnel.
The rescuers need to drill up to 60 metres to insert 800 mm and 900 mm diameter pipes with the help of a giant drill machine to create an escape passage for the stranded workers.
“Positioning of the fifth pipe was under progress. It was reported that the machine was not able to push further as it was getting lifted and the bearings of the machine was damaged. It was planned to fix the machine by anchors to avoid uplifting. It was decided and agreed by the special agency executing the work that 900 mm diameter pipe that further pushing of the pipe will be feasible only if the machine is placed with the same inclination as the pipe,” the statement said.
Elite rescue teams from Thailand and Norway, including the one that successfully rescued the trapped children from a cave in Thailand in 2018, have joined the rescuers to aid in the ongoing rescue operation.
The round-the-clock rescue work is being helmed by 165 personnel from multiple agencies, including NDRF, SDRF, BRO, and the ITBP.
Rescuers can communicate with the trapped men using radios. Food, water and oxygen have also been sent to the trapped workers via a pipe.
The 4.5-kilometre tunnel was being constructed between the towns of Silkyara and Dandalgaon to connect Uttarkashi and Yamunotri, two of the holiest Hindu shrines.
Experts have warned about the impact of extensive construction in Uttarakhand, where large parts of the state are prone to landslides.