Uttarkashi, India (Reuters) – Rescue workers renewed their efforts on Thursday to reach 40 men trapped inside a collapsed highway tunnel in India for a fifth day, making slow progress as they began digging through rocks and soil debris.
Authorities said they were confident that an advanced drilling machine arrived from New Delhi would speed up the rescue operation at the site in the northern state of Uttarakhand.
The plan is to dig and create space for a pipe that the trapped men can use to crawl to safety.
The excavation had penetrated about 3 meters of debris by Thursday morning, officials said, adding that they had to cover a total distance of about 60 metres.
Ranjit Sinha, the state’s chief disaster management officer, said the machine can dig between 2 to 2.5 meters of rock per hour.
Two trapped construction workers were treated for nausea and headaches while they remained confined for a fifth day in a small space behind the rubble, officials said.
“There is electricity, water and we are sending food. The new, more powerful and faster machine has been deployed,” VK Singh, Deputy Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways and a retired Army Commander, told reporters at the site.
He added, “Our priority is to rescue them all. The morale of the people trapped inside is high. We are very optimistic about getting them out.”
Singh said Indian agencies involved in the rescue efforts were consulting experts in Austria, Norway and Thailand, but did not provide details.
Asked about local media reports that India had consulted Thai experts who were involved in rescuing 12 boys trapped in a cave complex in 2018, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said: “Technical experts who dealt with such situations in India were also consulted. Foreign countries”. “.
An ambitious project
The 4.5-km tunnel is part of the Char Dham Expressway, one of the most ambitious projects of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. The $1.5 billion project aims to connect four Hindu pilgrimage sites via 890 km of roads.
Since the tunnel collapse, the trapped men have been supplied with food, water and oxygen via a tube and are in contact with rescuers via walkie-talkies.
“Two of them, who complained of nausea and minor headaches, were given medicines through a tube and are fine now,” said Arpan Yaduvanshi, a local police officer.
Local media reported that a temporary hospital with six beds had been set up near the tunnel to meet any medical care the men might need once they were rescued.
The authorities did not say why the tunnel collapsed, but the area is vulnerable to landslides, earthquakes and floods. The highway project faced some criticism from environmental experts, and some work was halted in January after hundreds of homes along the roads were damaged due to subsidence.
The federal government said it used environmentally friendly techniques in the design to make the geologically unstable stretches safer.
Reporting by Saurabh Sharma, writing by YP Rajesh and Tanvi Mehta
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