Manual drilling in a collapsed tunnel in Uttarakhand's Uttarkashi where 41 workers have been trapped for the past 15 days has begun. The rescue authorities are first cutting down the blades of the auger machine manually, which was damaged while drilling through the debris on Friday. This process is likely to be completed by today.
Authorities have begun vertical drilling on the hilltop above the Silkyara tunnel to create an alternate route for the trapped men to be rescued.
Horizontal drilling through the rubble at the Silkyara tunnel hit a roadblock for almost the entire day on Friday. But the extent of the problem was known on Saturday when international tunnelling expert Arnold Dix told reporters that the auger machine was “busted”. Once the auger machine is taken out from the escape pipe, rescue authorities will start manual drilling for around 10 metres.
At a media briefing, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) member Lt Gen (retd) Syed Ata Hasnain said the operation "could take a long time".
Manual drilling would involve individual workers entering the already bored 47-metre stretch of the rescue passage, drilling for a brief period in the confined space and then coming out to let someone else take over.
Earlier, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami held a high-level meeting with all the agencies and officials of the Uttarakhand government engaged in the rescue operation at the Silkyara tunnel site. In a post on X, Dhami said the government's top priority was evacuating the workers. "Doctors have been instructed to keep in constant touch with our worker brothers and regularly check their health," he added.
Chief Minister Dhami said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been taking daily updates about the rescue operation at the Silkyara tunnel site. He said the Prime Minister gave an assurance to his government that it would help to safely pull out all the men trapped inside the tunnel.
Several families of the trapped workers were anxious about their well-being and complained that the rescue operation was slow. They said the workers were getting frustrated and impatient.
Some of the families camped near the site and occasionally took updates from the authorities on the status of the operation.
The rescue effort began on November 12 when a portion of the under-construction tunnel on Uttarakhand's Char Dham route collapsed following a landslide, cutting off the exit for the workers inside.
The workers are in a built-up two-kilometre stretch of the tunnel. They are being sent food, medicines and other essentials through a six-inch wide pipe constructed and installed by the rescue authorities.
Amid the uncertainty over their rescue, the trapped workers have been given mobile phones to play video games and board games such as ludo, and snakes and ladders to bust their stress, as per reports.
A landline facility has been set up at the tunnel in order to keep the workers connected with their family members, officials said. The facility has been set up by the state-run BSNL and a handset will be given to the workers trapped inside the tunnel.
An endoscopic camera has been used to get live visuals from beyond the collapsed stretch.
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