Efforts are on to rescue the 40 workers inside an under-construction tunnel in Uttarakhand that collapsed early on Sunday. Officials say the workers — who have been trapped in a buffer zone — are unharmed and are being supplied with food and water by a long pipe. But 35 hours on, the rescue teams have made little headway in cutting down the rocks that fell over a 200-meter area, trapping the workers inside the tunnel.
Speaking to NDTV about the progress of the work, NDRF Inspector General Narendra Bundela said: “Regarding the amount of time to be taken, I’ll not be able to comment just now… The work is progressing and definitely the team will be able to reach there.”
“Different machines are being used to stabilise the loose soil but inch by inch the team is progressing,” he added.
The NDRF (National Disaster Relief Force), state Disaster Relief Force and the Uttarakhand Police have joined in the rescue efforts.
The 4.5-km tunnel on the Brahmakhal-Yamunotri National Highway, which will join Silkyara and Dandalgaon in Uttarkashi, is part of the Chardham project. Once finished, it is expected to cut down the distance by 26 km.
Preliminary information is that a landslide has caused part of the tunnel to collapse. Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami has said that the soil in the area is loose and that is why debris keeps falling, which is why the rescue operation is also taking time.
Mr Bundela agreed. “The soil is very loose… so when the machines start making the way, they have to be very careful (not to harm people or cause additional damage)… the work has to be very meticulous,” he said.
The team had initially been able to cut through 30 meters of rocks but some soil fell again so they have been able to clear 14 meters. Asked how much further they have to go, he said it is difficult to predict but an estimate by NHIDCR (National Highways and Infrastructure Development) is that rocks have fallen in an area that is 40 meters in length.
Videos from the spot showed huge piles of concrete blocking the tunnel, twisted metal bars from its broken roof buried in rubble creating more obstacles for rescue workers. Around 160 rescue workers are trying to reach the trapped labourers with drilling equipment and excavators.
The police said portion of the tunnel collapsed around 4 am on Sunday. Alarm was raised immediately and rescue workers rushed to the spot. The Chief Minister has also visited the site.
The trapped workers are mostly migrants from Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, officials have said.