Uttarakhand tunnel rescue: Rat-hole miners succeed where big machines failed

Pipe goes through tunnel blockage in Uttarkashi

uttarkashi-tunnel-afp National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) personnel along with other rescue operatives gather near the face of the collapsed under construction Silkyara tunnel in the Uttarkashi | AFP

In a further pronouncement of human ingenuity and enterprise, a small team of five-six rat-hole miners on Tuesday have managed to dig through the rubble with hand-held implements, making way for a 800 mm pipe to barge through and reach the trapped 41 workers 17 days after an under-construction tunnel collapsed in Uttarkashi.

“The breakthrough happened at around 1 pm today. The 800 mm diameter pipe is now visible to the tunnel workers on the other side of the debris. Which means it is now a matter of hours before the workers begin coming out,” a source familiar with the development told THE WEEK.

A team of rat-hole miners were brought in to the tunnel site on Monday to help with the ongoing rescue operations.

Mostly practiced in the coal mines of Meghalaya, rat-hole mining is a process of extracting coal from horizontal seams after digging through narrow pits. Miners are lowered to these pits on bamboo ladders with the space inside the pits just enough for one person to enter and move around.

Also Read : Why Uttarakhand is at the cusp of a tragedy of epic proportions

It was on November 12 that the under-construction tunnel in Uttarakhand suddenly collapsed trapping 41 workers while they were laying out the ‘final lining’ on a particular tunnel stretch from the Silkyara side in Uttarkhand’s Uttarkasi district.

The 4.5 km-long tunnel will connect Silkyara with Barkot, rendering redundant a 26 km-long hour-long journey by vehicle through a high altitude and very difficult terrain and reducing it to just a few minutes.

The tunnel that would pass underneath the Radi Pass on completion would provide much faster and easier all-weather connectivity to places like the Harsil sector near the India-China border which is an area of dispute with the Chinese.

Of the 41 trapped workers, 15 are from Jharkhand, while five each are from Odisha and Bihar, eight from Uttar Pradesh, three from West Bengal, two each from Assam and Uttarakhand, and one from Himachal Pradesh.

International agencies and experts, besides a plethora of Indian agencies and companies have been toiling for the last 17 days to reach out and rescue the workers.

The tunnel was being built by Navyug Engineering Company under the overall guidance of the National Highways Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL).

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