14 Nov 2023

Uttarakhand Tunnel Collapse: Progress slow in clearing rocks, this is how rescuers are striving to establish escape passage

Dehradun/Delhi: A concerted effort is underway to rescue 40 workers who have been trapped inside a tunnel in Uttarakhand for more than 48 hours.

Despite ongoing rescue efforts, progress has been slow in clearing the rocks that fell over a 200-meter stretch, trapping the workers inside the tunnel.

Rescuers are striving to establish an escape passage, covering a distance of approximately 40 meters, to reach the trapped workers. Officials report that they have successfully removed around 21 meters of the slab blocking the tunnel, leaving a 19-meter passage yet to be cleared.

Initially, the team managed to cut through 30 meters of rocks, but due to a subsequent soil collapse, only 21 meters have been effectively cleared.

Efforts to stabilize loose debris are underway

Efforts to stabilize the loose debris, causing delays in the rescue operation, are underway. Excavation, including shotcreting, has commenced for the 40-meter section of the collapsed tunnel. Shotcreting involves spraying concrete at high velocity over a structure.

To facilitate the rescue, teams plan to insert a 900 mm diameter pipe, wide enough for the trapped workers to navigate, by drilling a hole into the debris using auger machines.

All necessary materials and machinery for this challenging operation have been transported to the site, with experts from the irrigation department also contributing to the effort.

Videos from the location depict substantial piles of concrete obstructing the tunnel, along with twisted metal bars from the broken roof buried in rubble, creating additional challenges for the predominantly migrant rescue workers from Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha, Uttarakhand, and Himachal Pradesh.

The workers became trapped in the tunnel on Sunday morning when the under-construction structure on the Brahmakhal-Yamunotri National Highway collapsed.

Food and oxygen being supplied through water pipelines

Although the workers, currently in a buffer zone, are unharmed, they are being supplied with food and oxygen through water pipelines. A disaster response official stated, "They have a buffer of around 400 meters to walk and breathe."

Communication established with workers using Walkie-Talkies

Rescue teams have successfully established communication with the workers using Walkie-Talkies. Initially, contact was made through a note on a scrap of paper, but later rescuers connected using radio handsets.

The 4.5-kilometer tunnel on the Brahmakhal-Yamunotri National Highway, part of the Chardham project connecting Silkyara and Dandalgaon in Uttarkashi, is expected to reduce the distance by 26 km upon completion.

Initial reports suggest that a landslide triggered the collapse in the region, but officials state that investigations are ongoing to determine the exact cause of the collapse.

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