Rescue of 41 workers trapped in a tunnel in India is hindered again in final stretch of digging


NEW DELHI – The rescue of 41 construction workers trapped nearly two weeks in a collapsed tunnel in northern India has been hindered again in the final stretch of digging, officials said Thursday.

Some blades of the drilling machine were damaged by a metal object in the debris.

Special cutters have been arranged from New Delhi and Dehradun, the capital of Uttarakhand state, and efforts were being made to remove the metal obstruction to resume drilling, said Kirti Panwar, a state government spokesman.

The drilling machine is being repaired and will be realigned to resume drilling, said Devendra Patwal, a disaster management official.

The drill as of late Wednesday night had made it through 44 meters (144 feet) out of approximately the 57 needed, Harpal Singh, a manager of another tunnel project who is helping with the rescue, told the Press Trust of India news agency.

Once they finish excavating the additional 13 meters (43 feet) of dirt and debris, the rescuers can insert and weld together pipes that will be the trapped workers’ route to freedom.

Singh earlier said the rescuers hoped to evacuate the trapped workers on Thursday.

Rescuers resumed drilling horizontally through the entrance of the tunnel Wednesday after problems with the machine forced them to stop digging last week and consider alternate rescue plans.

The mountainous terrain in Uttarakhand has proved a challenge to the drilling machine, which broke down as rescuers attempted to dig horizontally toward the trapped workers. The machine’s high-intensity vibrations also caused more debris to fall.

The workers have been trapped since Nov. 12, when a landslide caused a portion of the 4.5-kilometer (2.8-mile) tunnel they were building to collapse about 200 meters (650 feet) from the entrance.

On Wednesday evening, ambulances and a team of 15 doctors were deployed to the accident site, PTI reported.

Relatives who had gathered there told the news agency they were finally feeling optimistic, after days of anxiety and concern over the rescue and well-being of the workers.

Devashish, whose brother-in-law is among those stuck, said he spoke to him on Monday. “Sonu repeatedly told me not to worry now and that we would meet soon,” he said.

Authorities began supplying the trapped workers with hot meals, made of rice and lentils, through a 6-inch (15.24 cm) pipe earlier this week after days of them surviving off of dry food sent through a narrower pipe. Oxygen is being supplied to them through a separate pipe.

Officials on Tuesday released a video, after a camera was pushed through the pipe, showing the workers in their construction hats moving around the blocked tunnel while communicating with rescuers on the ground through walkie-talkies.

Uttarakhand is dotted with Hindu temples, and highway and building construction has been constant to accommodate the influx of pilgrims and tourists. The tunnel is part of the Chardham all-weather road, a flagship federal project connecting various Hindu pilgrimage sites.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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