Uttarkashi tunnel collapse: Less than 20 metres of rubble left to drill through, next few metres 'crucial'
Trying to create an escape passage for 41 workers trapped in the Silkyara tunnel for 10 days resumed overnight and there were just 18 metres to go before the drilling machine breaks through the rubble, officials said on November 22.
Rescuers have drilled more than a hallway through the debris, behind which 41 workers have been waiting to be pulled out for 10 days now. A portion of the Silkyara tunnel in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi collapsed on November 12, trapping the workers inside.
Mahmood Ahmed, a senior official with Uttarakhand's Road and Transport Department, said, "I am very happy to share that drilling for 39 metres has been completed. Estimates indicate the workers are trapped 57 metres underground, so only 18 metres is left," he said.
Ahmed said, "If there are no obstacles, some big news may be received tonight or tomorrow morning. An iron rod has also come along with the debris. It is a matter of happiness that this iron in the middle of laying the pipeline did not create any problems for us."
"An additional 800 mm pipe has also been pushed 21 metres inside the tunnel. Around 12:45 am, we started drilling through the auger machine and so far, we have pushed three more pipes...As long as we reach 45-50 metres inside the tunnel, we will not be able to give you the exact time. We are also doing horizontal drilling, we have entered around 8 metres from there as well," he added.
Speaking to the media, Uttarkashi SP Arpan Yaduvanshi said, "The progress has been really good since last night. We have crossed 39 metres. Everyone is excited, the operation is moving in the right direction. If there are no obstacles ahead, we will quickly be able to rescue the trapped workers..."
Drilling work resumed late on Tuesday after a pause since November 17, and made significant headway. Rescue agencies have managed to successfully drill 39 metres through the debris. After drilling through a large rock structure that had created a substantial hurdle and delayed rescue operations for many days, the drilling gathered speed.
First visuals were released
Using an endoscopic flexi camera pushed into the pipeline, photos of the stranded workers were taken for the first time in several days, and they gave some relief because they showed the men in good health. Modern drilling equipment has been sent to the scene from around the nation to accommodate every kind of drilling operation required for the rescue.
Food sent to trapped workers
The trapped labourers received a hot meal last night consisting of veg pulao, matar-paneer, and chapatis with butter, all prepared under medical supervision to ensure easy digestion. The food was delivered through a 6-inch wide pipeline that has also been used to send fruits and establish communication with the trapped workers.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami has stated that the priority remains the safe evacuation of all workers, and that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is being updated regularly on the progress of the rescue efforts. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has confirmed that there is sufficient water, oxygen, power, and light inside the tunnel where the workers are trapped.