IndiaAnswerHimalayaWorkers remain stranded for the ninth day due to the collapse of the district highway tunnel. Rescue workers are preparing to dig a new tunnel today to save the trapped people after the previous rescue operation failed.
After a section of a tunnel under construction in Uttarakhand collapsed on November 12, authorities sent excavators to remove cement and stone from the tunnel, Agence France-Presse reported. However, the rescue operation was slow due to continuous falling of soil and rocks during the digging process. At the same time, due to frequent breakdown of heavy machinery, the Indian Air Force had to airlift new machinery twice.
Engineers had earlier tried to insert a steel pipe horizontally into the collapsed tunnel to allow trapped workers to escape.
However, officials said that loud noises coming from the tunnel caused “panic” and the drilling process was suspended on the 17th.
Experts have warned large-scale construction in Uttarakhand puts much of the province at risk of collapse.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami issued a statement today saying officials were “making every possible effort” and “the workers trapped in the tunnel are safe.” He said he had informed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the crisis.
District officer Abhishek Ruhela said three-fourth of the track route up to the latest drilling site has been completed.
“Of the 1,200 meters of track required to dig the tunnel at Gelai, 900 meters have been completed,” Rouhaira told AFP.
Over the past few days, search and rescue personnel have communicated with the workers trapped in the tunnel via radio and provided them oxygen and dry food through construction water pipes. Workers plan to expand the long, narrow tube to accommodate incoming food packages.
Officials called in foreign experts, including independent disaster investigator Arnold Dix, president of the International Tunneling and Underground Space Association.
“We have to find a way to get them out… Our focus is not only to get people out, but also to ensure the safety of the rescue workers,” Dix told media at the scene today.
A few days before the collapse, engineers had demolished a small Hindu temple to advance the tunnel project, with local Indian villagers believing that this had angered the gods.
The tunnel project is part of Modi’s infrastructure plan to reduce travel time to popular Hindu resorts in the country as well as improve access to strategic areas bordering China.