Waiting and prayers: for the families of 41 Indian workers trapped for eleven days in a collapsed road tunnel in the north of the country, the wait continues but hopes of a happy outcome do not weaken.
Relatives peered at the tunnel entrance, where bulldozers and excavators were busy drilling through the rubble of earth, rock and concrete.
Rescue teams had drilled through three-quarters of the ruins on Wednesday, with engineers working to push a massive steel tube at least 57 meters long from the earth and rock separating the walls from the open air, according to authorities.
Ambulances were stationed near the tunnel entrance, ready to respond in the hope that the trapped workers could be freed soon.
Excavators have moved tonnes of earth, concrete and debris following the collapse of a tunnel under construction on November 12 in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand.
Uttarakhand State Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said upon arrival at the site on Wednesday that work was progressing “rapidly”. Engineers had drilled through 45 meters of the 57 meters of debris, achieving a sudden and rapid breakthrough after days of painstaking progress, he said.
“If there is no blockage, we hope there will be good news tonight or tomorrow,” Mahmood Ahmad, a Roads and Highways Ministry official, told reporters.
“The day they come out of the tunnel, for us, it will be the biggest and happiest day,” said Chanchal Singh Bisht, 35, whose cousin Pushkar Singh Ary, 24, is trapped in the interior.
Bisht said the family, who initially feared the worst, calmed down completely after being able to speak to the young man over the radio on Tuesday.
“We are relieved and hopeful to see him come out,” he told AFP.
“We can only wait”
Visual contact occurred for the first time on Tuesday, thanks to an endoscopic camera sent by rescuers through a pipe through which air, food and water were regularly delivered to the trapped workers.
Mr. Bisht found that the workers seemed enthusiastic. “They are brave” and “waiting to be rescued,” he said. His cousin “said he was playing and talking with others.”
“Politicians and engineers have come and given us assurances, but what can we do?” “We can only wait,” said Mr. Bisht.
For him, those responsible for the rescue operation initially “took it lightly”. “I don’t know anything about engineering or technical work, but I don’t feel like they’re being proactive.”
Vikram Singh, 34, remained stationed near the tunnel entrance, even though his brother, who he could speak to, told him “that he was fine” and asked him to go home.
Villagers erected a small Hindu temple at the tunnel entrance to honor the local deity, Boukhnag. They explained that the original temple had been moved to make way for the tunnel, some thought this was the cause of the collapse.
On Wednesday, a Hindu priest came to the site and prayed for the trapped people. The rescue team prayed before returning to the tunnel.
Colleagues were also present at the accident site, including Shankar Vaidya, who was nearly trapped during the collapse.
The 21-year-old from Jharkhand state recalled the silent fall of small pieces of debris before the tunnel ceiling collapsed. Luckily, he just finished his work and left.
“Suddenly there were piles falling,” he said, adding that his uncle, two friends and other workers from his home village were inside. “Our villagers, our families, can’t wait to know when they will be rescued and able to return home.”
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