As many as 41 workers have been trapped inside an under-construction road tunnel in Uttarakhand for nearly a week with rescue operations yet to see any major breakthrough, leaving their families worried and anxious.
The labourers were trapped after a portion of the tunnel being built between Silkyara and Dandalgaon on the Brahmakhal-Yamunotri national highway in Uttarkashi caved in on November 12.
The rescue work has been put on hold since Friday when a US-made auger machine deployed to drill and push in pipes through the rubble to prepare an escape passage for the trapped workers developed a snag.
Another high-performance machine has been airlifted from Indore reached Silkyara on Saturday. Reports said the machine has arrived as three parts and they need to be assembled before being deployed for drilling.
The auger machine had drilled up to 24 metres through the rubble inside the tunnel when it encountered a snag on Friday.
The National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) in a statement said a loud cracking sound was heard in the tunnel around 2.45 pm, following which they suspended the operation.
The 30-metre collapsed section is 270 metres from the mouth of the tunnel from the Silkyara side, officials said, adding that the labourers were safe and that they are being provided oxygen, electricity, medicines, food items and water through pipes.
Meanwhile, a central team has arrived at the disaster site to review the progress of the rescue mission.
The team comprised Additional Secretary, MoRTH Mahmood Ahmed, Deputy Secretary, PMO, Mangesh Ghildiyal, Varun Adhikari, Geologist Engg, and engineering expert Armando Capellan.
News agency PTI reported that the delay in the rescue mission has mounted the desperation of the workers’ families waiting outside.
"I could not talk to my brother. His voice sounded very weak. He was hardly audible. Rescue work in the tunnel has come to a halt. Those trapped are also short of food and water. We have come to the end of our patience. What more can I say?" said Maharaj Singh, brother of Gabbar Singh Negi, a trapped labourer.
Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami, who held a meeting with officials at his residence, said the safe evacuation of the workers was his government’s priority.
"Under the guidance of the PMO, the state government is busy making all efforts to evacuate labourers trapped inside the tunnel ares. We hope we will soon succeed in the mission," he told reporters.