Indian rescuers dig past halfway mark in efforts to reach trapped workers

By Sania Farooqui and Manveena Suri, CNN

CNN  — 

Rescuers in India drilled past the halfway mark on Wednesday in efforts to reach workers trapped in a partially collapsed tunnel in the Himalayas.

Forty-one labourers became trapped in India’s northern Uttarakhand state after part of the passageway to the tunnel’s entrance gave way on November 12, sparking a frantic rescue mission.

The operation has been able to use heavy machinery to successfully drill through two-thirds of the way through the rubble to reach the workers that have been trapped for more than a week, according to authorities on Wednesday.

A total of 39 meters’ drilling has been done with an Auger machine, according to a press release issued by state authorities, adding the drilling was “done at a fast pace.”

There is believed to be a total distance of 60 meters worth of debris between the rescuers and those trapped, authorities said earlier.

People stand near the entrance to the site of an under-construction road tunnel that collapsed in mountainous Uttarakhand state, India, Friday, Nov. 17, 2023. Rescuers drilled deeper into the rubble of a collapsed road tunnel in northern India on Friday to fix wide pipes for 40 workers trapped underground for a sixth day to crawl to their freedom. (AP Photo)
Images from the Director General of Police (government official / government handout material) #NEWS: India airlifts high-powered drilling machine to assist tunnel rescue India has airlifted a high-powered drilling machine to assist in the rescue of dozens of road workers trapped underground near the town of Uttarkashi in the northern state of Uttarakhand, according to a post from the stateís Director General of Police, Ashok Kumar, on Wednesday. The Indian Air Force flew the large drilling machine, known as an auger, in pieces on two separate planes from the capital, New Delhi, which lies more than 400 kilometres south of Uttarkashi, Kumar said. The machine will be assembled and deployed Thursday at the site where as many as 40 workers have been trapped after a mountain tunnel they were working in collapsed on Sunday. Rescue work, which officials say has been on ìwar footing", has been slow due debris falling in the excavated channel. "The nature of the rock is very fragile, the more we drill the more it comes out but we are still trying whatever techniques we have," the Director of the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation, Anshu Manish Khalkho told media on Wednesday. Uttarkashiís Chief Medical Officer, RCS Panwar told CNN on Wednesday that some of the trapped workers had fallen ill. ìA few people inside are complaining of headaches, some are complaining of nausea,î he said, adding that there is about a six-inch pipe through which medicines like multi-vitamins, glucose, and dried fruits are being sent to them. Meanwhile, angry workers and relatives of those trapped confronted the authorities on Wednesday calling to expedite the rescue efforts. Video showed dozens of people at the construction site questioning the officials about the rescue efforts.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, senior government official Dr. Neeraj Khairlanji said, “If there are no further hurdles, then maybe by later tonight or early morning we may have some good news.”

The incident earlier this month left workers confined behind a pile of rubble with little oxygen and water.

Authorities established contact with the men soon after the collapse and embarked on a mission to bring them out safely, aided by local police, India’s Disaster Management Authority and State Disaster Response Fund.

In what was described as the operation’s “first success,” rescuers managed to insert a 53-meter (174 ft) pipe through the rubble late Monday, allowing them to deliver their first hot meal of lentils, water, medicines and oxygen to the trapped laborers.

A second pipeline was put in place on Tuesday to deliver more food to the workers.

The tunnel is part of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Char Dham Highway project, a multimillion-dollar infrastructure plan to improve connectivity in the state of Uttarakhand and provide better access to important pilgrimage locations.

Uttarakhand, a mountainous and picturesque state on India’s border with China, is often referred to as “Devbhumi” or “Land of the Gods” owing to its rich cultural heritage and the abundance of Hindu religious sites.

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