India: Desperate rescue attempts after tunnel collapse

New Delhi. Concern over 41 workers trapped in a partially collapsed road tunnel in northern India is growing by the hour. The men have been stuck for over a week now. After several interruptions, rescue teams resumed their work over the weekend, Indian media reported on Sunday. Authorities are now working on different rescue plans simultaneously. This also includes vertical drilling from the top of the mountain.

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First, an access road will be created up to the top of the hill below which workers are stuck in the tunnel, said Devendra Patwal of the Disaster Management Authority. Vertical drilling downward toward the tunnel is expected to begin Monday evening. Hundreds of volunteers participated in these actions, writes the newspaper “India Today”.

Those trapped would continue to be supplied with oxygen, medicines and food, such as chickpeas and nuts, via pipelines. Small parcels of food were pumped into the tunnel, the Indian Express newspaper reported. We are also in contact with the workers. “There is electricity and water in the tunnel,” Times Now newspaper quoted Anurag Jain of the transport ministry as saying. “It will take time, but we will eventually get them out,” he continued.

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Learn more after the announcement

Prime Minister Narendra Modi stressed during a meeting with the head of the government of the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, Pushkar Singh Dhami, that the central government was providing necessary rescue materials. According to Modi, the morale of those trapped must also be maintained.

The strength of those trapped seems to be diminishing

But outside the tunnel, relatives feared for the lives and health of the workers. It was an agonizing wait, NDTV reported. The workers’ voices were growing fainter and their strength seemed to be diminishing, relatives told the station after they were able to speak to those trapped. Authorities announced on Saturday that they would cover the accommodation, food and medical care of waiting family members, news agency ANI reported.

Indian media initially said 40 workers were trapped, then authorities increased that number to 41, the Indian Express reported Sunday. Several politicians and officials visited the scene of the accident this weekend.

Problems with drills

Drilling work intended to save workers was temporarily halted on Friday after problems arose while using a drilling rig specially flown from the capital New Delhi. By the time work was stopped, the machine was said to have dug around 24 meters deep into the tunnel rubble. But the workers are trapped behind about 60 meters of rubble. A second high-performance drilling machine was also brought to the accident site from Indore city.

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Learn more after the announcement

The highway tunnel under construction partially collapsed on November 12 following a landslide. The approximately 4.5-kilometre-long road tunnel is being built near the small town of Uttarkashi in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, a region home to many Hindu temples that attract pilgrims.


Rosemary Rowse

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