19 Nov 2023

Uttarakhand Tunnel Collapse: New rescue strategy in place as families anxiously await updates

Facing a race against time, authorities initiated preparations on Saturday to drill a vertical hole from the hill's summit under which 41 workers have been trapped in a collapsed tunnel for a week, with limited food and communication.

As the day gave way to night, officials held onto the hope that the Border Roads Organisation's efforts to create an alternative route to the under-construction Silkyara tunnel would be completed by Sunday afternoon. This would enable the resumption of the rescue mission, which had been halted since Friday.

"We are attempting to create a vertical track from the top of the tunnel. A point at the tunnel's summit has been identified for drilling. This track is approximately 1,000-1,100 meters long. Concurrently, we are conducting a survey to estimate the time required. According to our calculations, the track should be ready by tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon," stated BRO's Major Naman Narula.

High-performance drilling machine transported from Indore

A high-performance drilling machine, transported from Indore to Uttarkashi on Saturday, was being assembled to penetrate the rubble of the collapsed tunnel on the Char Dham route and facilitate the resumption of drilling.

The Silkyara tunnel, a crucial component of the Central government's ambitious Char Dham all-weather road project, is situated approximately 30 km from the Uttarkashi district headquarters and a seven-hour drive from the Uttarakhand capital, Dehradun. It is being constructed under the National Highways & Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited or NHIDCL.

The tunnel collapsed last Sunday at 5:30 am. As the hours passed, the anxiety of families waiting outside escalated, exacerbated by the suspension of rescue operations since Friday afternoon when a US-made auger machine encountered issues.

By the time drilling ceased, the auger machine had penetrated 24 meters through the rubble spread over a 60-meter area inside the tunnel.

Officials explore various options

Officials explored various options while families anxiously awaited updates. One option considered was creating a small hole for providing essential items to the trapped individuals. Another possibility involved a larger hole for evacuation. "This road is about 900 meters long. Hopefully, the road will be ready by Sunday afternoon," said RS Rao of the Directorate General Border Roads.

Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami expressed hope that state-of-the-art machines, both domestic and international, would succeed in rescuing the trapped laborers. Despite government assurances, families experienced an agonizing wait, as the voices of those trapped grow weaker as the days pass inexorably.

Rescue operations were halted on Friday afternoon due to a cracking sound heard during the positioning of a fifth pipe, prompting concerns about further collapse. The number of workers inside was revised to 41, and NHIDCL discovered the discrepancy on Friday.

As authorities worked to find a solution, family members reported that the trapped workers' voices were diminishing, adding to the urgency of the rescue efforts.

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