A fresh landslide hampered efforts to rescue 40 labourers trapped in an under-construction tunnel in Uttarakhand for over 70 hours. Rescue officials had spent hours preparing a platform for the auger drilling machine to insert steel pipes through the rubble, but a landslide on Tuesday night forced them to dismantle the machine and start work on the platform again.
The drilling machine would have helped create a passage for the labourers to come out of the tunnel which collapsed on Sunday morning. Officials said around 21 metres of slab blocking the tunnel has been removed and a 19 metres passage is yet to be cleared.
New equipment is now being flown in from New Delhi to assist in the rescue operations.
Uttarkashi District Magistrate Abhishek Ruhela had earlier told reporters that the trapped labourers could be evacuated today.
“If everything goes as planned, the trapped labourers will be evacuated by Wednesday,” he said after visiting the accident site on Tuesday evening.
But the latest visuals showed rescue teams dismantling the drilling machine and the platform that had been created.
In an update, the state disaster response force said that work is on to set up a new drilling machine.
Several workers are protesting at the rescue site over the delay in getting the trapped labourers out.
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 – who are mostly migrants from Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha, Uttarakhand, and Himachal Pradesh.
The plan is to push through both 800- and 900-millimetre diameter sections of mild steel pipes — one after the other — into the rubble using drilling equipment and create an escape passage for the workers who, officials said earlier, are safe and being provided with oxygen, water, food packets and medicines through tubes.
There are eight 900-millimetre diameter pipes with a length of six metres each and five pipes of 800-millimetre diameter of the same length, the State Emergency Operation Centre said.
A part of the tunnel being built between Silkyara and Dandalgaon on the Brahmakhal-Yamunotri National Highway caved in on Sunday following a landslide. The trapped workers have a buffer of around 400 metres to walk and breathe, officials said.
The rescue teams have also successfully established communication with the workers with Walkie-Talkies. Initial contact was made via a note on a scrap of paper, but later rescuers managed to connect using radio handsets.