Tunnel collapse in India: Rescuers are considering alternative plans to escape trapped workers

LUCKNOW, India (AP) — Officials trying to reach 41 workers trapped in a collapsed tunnel in northern India for eight days were considering alternative rescue plans Sunday after obstructions in a drilling machine caused them to stop digging.

New drilling machine arrives At the accident site in Uttarakhand on Saturday to replace one damaged while penetrating rocks and debris. They were using drills to create space to insert wide tubes through which the trapped workers could crawl to their freedom.

So far, authorities have dug 24 meters (79 feet) through the rubble and debris, but it will take up to 60 meters (197 feet) to allow workers to escape, disaster management official Devendra Patwal said.

On Sunday, officials were studying new angles for Extracting workers. This may include using the new machine to dig from the top of the hill, where workers were trapped underneath in the collapsed tunnel, said Deepa Gaur, a government spokesman.

People watch rescue and relief operations at the site of an under-construction road tunnel that collapsed in India's mountainous Uttarakhand state, Wednesday, November 15, 2023. Rescuers are trying to dig wide pipes through the excavated rubble to create a passage to free it. 40 construction workers have been trapped since Sunday. A landslide on Sunday caused part of the 4.5-kilometer (2.7-mile) tunnel to collapse about 200 meters (500 feet) from the entrance. It is a mountainous area prone to landslides and subsidence. (AP photo)

She added that this method will take longer, as it will take an additional four or five days.

Tarun Kumar Baidya, director of the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation, said the rescue efforts had hit a snag earlier when a loud cracking sound was heard inside the tunnel, triggering the operation by supervisors, who temporarily stopped digging and found parts of the machine damaged. Limited.

Construction workers have been trapped since November 12, when a landslide caused part of the 4.5 km (2.8 mi) tunnel they were building to collapse about 200 meters (650 feet) from the entrance. The mountainous region is vulnerable to landslides.

The site is located in Uttarakhand, a mountainous state dotted with Hindu temples that attract many pilgrims and tourists. Highways and buildings were steadily constructed to accommodate the flow. The tunnel is part of the busy all-weather Chardham Road, a flagship federal project connecting various areas Hindu pilgrimage sites.

About 200 disaster relief personnel are on site using drilling equipment and excavators Rescue operationwhere the plan is to push 80 cm (2.6 ft) wide steel pipes through the hole of the excavated debris.

Anshu Manish Khalkho, director of NHIDCL, said that after they temporarily halted drilling on Saturday, experts became concerned that the high-intensity vibrations of the drilling machine could cause more debris to fail and hamper efforts. The machine has a digging capacity of 5 meters (16 ft) per hour and is equipped with a 99 cm (3.2 ft) diameter pipe to remove debris.

Digging vertically from the top of the hill can also cause additional debris, Khalko said, but they will choose a specific technique designed for digging in overburdened soil conditions where unstable ground makes traditional methods more difficult. Experts hope that this method will reduce falling debris.

One challenge, however, is that drilling from above means they would need to dig 103 meters (338 feet) to reach the trapped workers, which is almost twice as much as if they had drilled from the front.

Khalbi said that the authorities are also considering digging from the sides and ends of the tunnel.

They also extended the pipe installed inside the tunnel that passes through it, said Vijay Singh, an officer in the control room The trapped workers were receiving food Such as nuts, roasted chickpeas, popcorn, and other essential items. The oxygen supply is administered through a separate tube.

Doctors, officials and relatives were in constant touch with the workers, said Patwal, the disaster management official. He said that two doctors at the disaster site were ensuring the physical and mental safety of the workers and provided them with vitamins and tablets to treat anxiety.

But as the rescue operation continues into its eighth day, the families of those trapped underground are growing more anxious, frustrated, and angry.

“I’m losing patience,” said Maharaj Singh Negi, whose brother Gabbar Singh was among the trapped workers. “The officials did not even inform us about future plans.”

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