Uttarkashi tunnel: New machine begins boring escape passage, govt targets completion of rescue in 3 days

The collapsed section is 270 metres from the mouth of the tunnel from Silkyara side

Uttarkashi tunnel A drilling machine being used in the rescue operation after a portion of an under-construction tunnel between Silkyara and Dandalgaon on the Brahmakhal-Yamunotri national highway collapsed, trapping several workers inside in Uttarkashi district | PTI

The heavy-duty American auger machine has begun boring escape passage for the rescue of 40 workers trapped in the under-construction Uttarkashi tunnel. Union Minister V.K. Singh said they are targeting completion of the entire rescue operation within two to three days.

Workers outside the Silkyara tunnel performed a puja before the America-made auger machine began work. The Indian Air Force (IAF) had flown in the equipment in parts on their C-130 Hercules transport planes to an airstrip 30 kilometres away, after previous efforts to insert steel pipes into the rubble with the help of a smaller auger machine failed.

"I have been told that the new drilling machine has already penetrated 5-7 metres through the debris. We hope it would soon reach the trapped workers, drilling at the rate of 5-10 metres every hour," Chief Minister Pushkar Dhami told reporters in Dehradun.

A 30-40 metre stretch of the under-construction had collapsed on Sunday. The collapsed section is 270 metres from the mouth of the tunnel from the Silkyara side.

ANI quoted Union Minister of State of Road Transport and Highways V.K. Singh as saying, “Government, all its agencies and experts with whom we can communicate--the efforts of all of us are aimed at rescuing the workers at the earliest. I have spoken with them and their morale is high. They understand that all efforts are being made for them and we are weighing all options to rescue them.” Singh added, “Our priority is to rescue them sooner. Efforts are being made for this. All the agencies are putting effort into this. A new machine is working, whose power and speed are better than the old machine. Our effort is to complete this rescue operation within two to three days. We are also taking the help of international experts. They know that the government is working to rescue them."

Pushkar Singh Dhami said Prime Minister Narendra Modi was regularly reviewing the rescue operation and was in constant touch with them. Dhami added prime minister has assured all assistance. The Uttarakhand government has decided to review all under-construction tunnels in the state, Dhami said. "We need such tunnels and many of them are being built in the state. We will review wherever they are being constructed," he said.

“The workers are stranded on the other side of the debris. They are safe, and being provided with oxygen, electricity, medicines, food items and water through pipes,” Navayuga Engineering Company's spokesperson G.L. Nath said. The company is building the tunnel on behalf of the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL).

Sections of mild steel pipes of 800-mm and 900-mm diameter will be inserted--one after the other--into the drilled passage. Once this happens, the workers trapped inside can crawl out to safety.

A six-bed makeshift health facility has been set up and 10 ambulances with expert doctors stationed outside the tunnel to provide immediate medical care to the trapped workers after their evacuation, officials said.

“The 25-ton new auger machine has the capacity to drill 4-5 metres per hour,” NHIDCL Director Anshu Manish Khalkho said earlier. After being brought to the site, the machine was installed through the night and made operational on Thursday.

The portion of the tunnel, part of the ambitious Char Dham all-weather road project, collapsed due to a landslide on Sunday.

-with agency inputs.

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