Uttarkashi (Uttarakhand): The operation to rescue 41 workers trapped inside an Uttarakhand tunnel for the past 12 days is in its final phase. As of midnight, rescue teams had said that about 10 meters of debris separates them from the trapped workers.
According to rescue teams, the operation involved drilling through the debris to push wide pipes for the trapped workers to walk out through. The auger machine, which drills through about 3 metres of debris in an hour, had hit a metal obstruction early this morning. A metal cutter was then used to remove the block and the operation resumed.
As the auger machine drills through, pipes are pushed through the debris. Once a pipe is all in, another is welded to it. In this manner, an escape route is being prepped for the trapped workers out of their long confinement. Welders have been flown in from Delhi to put together the final stretch of the pipe. They will get to work once the drilling ends.
But merely bringing the workers out of the tunnel is not enough. The 41 men have been inside for 12 days now, during which they have only received a couple of proper meals. The temperature difference between the tunnel and outside and the psychological impact of this confinement on the workers are also being accounted for.
Once the rescue pipe reaches the workers, a doctor with the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) would go and check their condition. He would show them how to crawl through the pipes that have sharp edges at welding joints. Rescue teams have said, adding that stretchers have also been arranged.
The workers will walk through the pipe under close supervision of the NDRF. Outside the tunnel, 41 ambulances are on standby to take the workers to a makeshift hospital that has come up in Chinyalisour. Rescue workers said the workers would go through a detailed medical examination once they reach the hospital.
Forty-four pipes have been inserted after horizontal drilling so far, rescue officer Harpal Singh told the media yesterday. “We found steel rods in the debris. The machine couldn’t cut those rods. NDRF personnel will cut those rods and use the machine again,” he said.
The tunnel, part of the centre’s ambitious Char Dham project, is located between Silkyara and Dandalgaon in Uttarakhand, on the road proposed to connect Uttarkashi and Yamunotri. Work on the 4.5 km tunnel has been mostly completed.
Following a landslide on November 12, the workers were trapped in the tunnel. The area they are stuck in is about 8.5 metres high and 2 km long. Fortunately, that part of the under-construction tunnel has electricity and water supply.
Over the past 12 days, the rescue operations ran into many difficulties owing to the topography of the Himalayan region and the nature of soil. These factors led to frequent roadblocks and tardy progress in the operation.
It is owing to these challenges that rescue teams are still wary of providing an exact timeline to the completion of the operation. The workers may be brought out over the next couple of hours if all goes well, they have said.