Indian rescuers drill to free 40 tunnel workers trapped for five days | THE DAILY TRIBUNE | KINGDOM OF BAHRAIN

Indian rescuers drill to free 40 tunnel workers trapped for five days

AFP | Dehradun, India

The Daily Tribune –

Indian rescuers said Thursday that a powerful new drilling machine had been deployed as efforts to free 40 workers trapped in a collapsed road tunnel entered their fifth day.

Excavators have been removing debris since Sunday morning from the site of the collapse in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand to create an escape tunnel for the workers, some of whom have fallen sick.

But rescue efforts have been slowed by debris continuing to fall as workers laboured to clear the tunnel, with progress stalled after an earth-boring drill developed problems.

The air force flew in a second drilling machine on a C-130 Hercules military plane on Wednesday, with the giant drill bit stretching much the length of the aircraft's cargo hold.

Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami confirmed Thursday afternoon that drilling had started, saying that rescuers were working on a "war footing".

"Evacuating the personnel trapped in the tunnel is the top priority," Dhami said in a statement on social media. "We are trying to get all the workers out safely as soon as possible."

Engineers are trying to drive a steel pipe about 90 centimetres (nearly three feet) wide through the debris -- wide enough for the trapped men to squeeze through.

As rescuers race to save the men, India has sought advice from the Thai company that rescued children from a flooded cave in 2018, as well as engineering experts in soil and rock mechanics at the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute.

Rescuers can communicate with the trapped men using radios.

Food, water and medicine have also been sent to the trapped workers via a six-inch-wide (15-centimetre) pipe as well as oxygen.

 - Headache and anxiety - 

No official details have been given about the condition of the men or how many of them were sick.

But medic B.S. Pokhriyal told The Indian Express newspaper he had spoken to some of the workers via the pipe, and some said they were suffering from vomiting, headache, anxiety and stomach problems.

A six-bed field hospital had also been set up outside the site with ambulances on standby to transfer serious cases to a proper hospital.

Dozens of colleagues of the trapped workers protested outside the tunnel on Wednesday, blaming authorities for "slow rescue work", one of the protesters told AFP.

The 4.5-kilometre (2.7-mile) tunnel was being constructed between the towns of Silkyara and Dandalgaon to connect Uttarkashi and Yamunotri, two of the holiest Hindu shrines.

The tunnel is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's road project aimed at improving travel conditions between some of the most popular Hindu shrines in the country as well as in areas bordering China.

Experts have warned about the impact of extensive construction in Uttarakhand, where large parts of the state are prone to landslides.

Accidents on big infrastructure projects are common in India.

In January, at least 200 people were killed in flash floods in ecologically fragile Uttarakhand in a disaster that experts partly blamed on excessive development.