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Indian Rescuers Prepare to Drill to Reach 40 Workers Trapped in a Tunnel

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Indian Rescuers Prepare to Drill to Reach 40 Workers Trapped in a Tunnel

A landslide in the under-construction mountain road in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand resulted in the collapse of the tunnel.

Indian Rescuers Prepare to Drill to Reach 40 Workers Trapped in a Tunnel

People watch rescue and relief operations at the site of an under-construction road tunnel that collapsed in mountainous Uttarakhand state, India, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023.

Credit: AP Photo

Rescuers in northern India supplied food and medicine to 40 construction workers on Thursday as officials prepared to start drilling through the rubble to reach the men who have been trapped since a portion of the tunnel they were working on collapsed over the weekend.

Rescuers planned to insert wide steel pipes to create a passage to free the workers trapped since early Sunday in the mountainous Uttarakhand state. A drilling machine was assembled after three Indian Air Force transport aircraft flew its parts in from New Delhi on Wednesday.

The workers are being provided with cashew nuts, peanuts, soaked and roasted chickpeas, popcorn, and medicines every two hours, said Devendra Patwal, a disaster management relief official.

Some complained of fever and body aches on Wednesday, but there has been no deterioration in their condition, he said.

Yogesh, who uses one name, cut short his Diwali celebrations and rushed to the collapsed tunnel when he learned that his brother was trapped. He spoke to Vishal, his brother, on Wednesday.

“He sounded tense but said he was okay. He asked about the rescue operation, and I told him that it is going on a war footing,” said Yogesh.

Anshu Manish Khalko, a National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation official, said he expected the drilling operation to start sometime Thursday.

“Once operational, this machine will facilitate the creation of an escape tunnel quickly to ensure evacuation of the trapped laborers,” he said.

On Wednesday, relatives and friends of the trapped workers gathered outside the tunnel and were seen growing frustrated and angry. The state government has been consulting with the Indian army and foreign experts on ways to proceed with the rescue.

State officials have contacted Thai experts who helped rescue a junior association football team that was trapped in a cave system in northern Thailand in 2018, state government administrator Gaurav Singh said. They also have approached the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute for possible help, Singh said.

About 200 disaster relief personnel have been at the site using drilling equipment and excavators in the rescue operation, with the plan to push 75-centimeter-wide (2.5-foot-wide) steel pipes through an opening of excavated debris.

Falling debris lightly injured two rescue workers, and delayed operations on Tuesday and Wednesday. No fresh landslide has occurred since Tuesday.

A landslide during road construction caused a portion of the 4.5-kilometer (2.7-mile) tunnel to collapse about 200 meters (500 feet) from the entrance. It is a hilly tract of land, prone to landslide and subsidence.

Uttarakhand is a mountainous state dotted with Hindu temples that attract many pilgrims and tourists and construction of highways and buildings has been constant to accommodate the influx.

The tunnel is part of the busy Char Dham all-weather road, a flagship federal project connecting various Hindu pilgrimage sites.