Tunnel Rescue Op Resumes, Less Than 10 Metres Left

New Delhi:

Efforts to rescue 41 workers trapped in an underground Uttarakhand tunnel were paused briefly, officials said Thursday morning, after the auger (an earth drilling machine) boring holes into the hillside hit a metal obstruction last night. Drilling resumed after the obstruction was removed. An estimated 45 metres has been drilled, leaving approximately 13 metres more of dirt and debris to shift.

Officials told NDTV the rescue op could take another six to seven hours.

“I am happy to tell you the metal obstruction has been removed. We are trying to move six metres ahead of the mark already reached. We hope that there will be no more obstructions in our way ahead…” Bhaskar Khulbe, the Special Officer deputed to the Uttarakhand’s Tourism Department, said.

“We are at the front door and are knocking on it… we know the guys are there on the other side,” Arnold Dix, one of several international experts also being consulted, said.

Two additional teams of experts – for tunnelling and welding – are now at the site.

“A total of three people have come. We are tunnelling experts and will take an update of the rescue operation going on,” RD Dwivedi, a Chief Scientist from Roorkee’s Central Institute of Mining and Fuel Research, told news agency ANI. Mr Dwivedi and his colleagues were rushed to the site in a helicopter.

According to ANI, those brought in from Delhi are expert welders who will weld together the final few segments of pipes once the drilling machine breaks through into the collapsed cavern.

This is the second time drilling has been stopped because of a metal obstruction; the first was on Sunday, when a metal cutter was used to remove the object before drilling resumed.

“We found steel rods in the debris. The machine couldn’t cut those rods (so) NDRF (National Disaster Response Force) personnel will cut them,” a rescue officer, Harpal Singh, had said.

Drilling was also paused on Friday after rescue officials inside the tunnel heard a “cracking sound”.

READ | Rescue Work In Uttarakhand Tunnel Paused After Loud “Cracking Sound”

The National Highways & Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited – one of five organisations in this op – said then work had been stopped as there is a “strong possibility a further collapse may take place… and accordingly activity has been stopped”.

The entire operation has been of a start-stop nature as officials take care not to cause a second collapse – one that could prove fatal to the 41 men trapped inside. As a result, the government has refused to commit itself to a specific timeframe about the men’s rescue.

The rescue operation – which involves pushing three-feet-wide pipes through holes drilled in the debris and/or hillside, to allow the men to crawl to freedom – was expected to be completed early this morning.

READ | Pipe-Ambulance-Hospital: Tunnel Rescue Plan, Step By Step

Over 44 pipes have been inserted so far in horizontal drilling efforts. These include six-inch tubes used to communicate with the trapped men and provide them with food, water, medicines and essentials.

Preparations have also been made to ensure the workers are given immediate medical aid.

A 41-bed makeshift hospital has been set up in Chinyalisour, which is around 30 km from the collapse site, and 41 ambulances (one for each worker) are on standby. And to ensure each reaches the hospital as quickly as possible, local police will create a ‘green corridor’.

“We will take the workers through a ‘green corridor’ with police escort. They will be taken to Chinyalisaur and then, if necessary, to Rishikesh,” senior police officer Arpan Yaduvanshi told ANI.

With input from agencies

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