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Uttarakhand tunnel collapse: Battle to rescue 41 workers resumes after hitting ‘steel’ snag

Inside the Silkyara tunnel entrance, the atmosphere is tense yet bustling with activity

A rescue officer stands near the entrance to the Silkyara tunnel: engineers began digging on November 12 through some 57 metres (187 feet) of earth, concrete and rubble.—AFP 

A battle is unfolding in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, India, where 41 workers have been trapped in a collapsed road tunnel for nearly two weeks.

Since November 12, the workers have been confined inside the tunnel after a section of it collapsed due to a landslide.

However, late on Wednesday, the rescue operation faced a slowdown when a drilling machine encountered a steel structure that it could not cut through.

By that time, rescuers had successfully drilled through three-quarters of the debris that was trapping the workers, raising hopes that they could be extracted by Thursday morning, according to BBC.

Equipped with specially fitted stretchers on wheels, rescue teams are prepared to move the exhausted men through a 57-meter steel pipe once the final section is cleared. 

While ambulances, a field hospital, and emergency vehicles stand ready, repeated delays due to debris, cave-in fears, and equipment breakdowns have added to the complexity of the operation.

The National Disaster Response Force, adopting a war footing, acknowledges the unpredictability of the rescue mission, emphasising the need to be prepared for any unforeseen challenges. 

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami affirms that the work is on a “war footing,” with a comprehensive setup in place, including a team of doctors, ambulances, helicopters, and a field hospital.

The tunnel, part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s infrastructure project, aimed at enhancing connectivity to popular Hindu sites and strategic areas along the border with China. Concerns about extensive construction in landslide-prone regions and the risks faced by both rescuers and trapped workers underscore the urgency of the situation.

Inside the Silkyara tunnel entrance, the atmosphere is tense yet bustling with activity. Worried relatives gather outside the site, where a Hindu shrine has been erected, and prayers are offered for the safe rescue of the trapped men.

The workers, seen alive for the first time on Tuesday through an endoscopic camera, endure challenging conditions inside the tunnel. Though trapped, they have sufficient space, with the interior measuring 8.5 meters high and stretching about two kilometres in length. 

As the rescuers persist in their efforts, the nation holds its breath, hoping for a successful and safe outcome.

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