Uttarakhand tunnel collapse: Last-minute snag delays rescue of trapped workers

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The operation to rescue 41 workers trapped inside a tunnel in India’s Uttarakhand state has resumed after hitting a snag, officials say.

The rescue team aims to liberate the trapped workers within the next 10-12 hours if the operation proceeds according to plan. Since November 12, the workers have been confined within the tunnel after a section collapsed due to a landslide. Late on Wednesday, the rescue operation faced a setback when a drilling machine encountered an uncuttable steel structure, impeding progress. Despite having drilled through three-quarters of the debris, the gas-cutters were eventually employed to slice through the obstacle, resulting in a roughly six-hour delay. Director General of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), Atul Karwal, expressed optimism about completing the rescue by Thursday night, provided no unforeseen obstacles arise. The authorities, equipped to handle potential challenges, have maintained contact with the trapped workers, supplying them with essentials like oxygen, dry snacks, and water through a pipeline initially intended for construction work. Regular communication and health updates have been provided.

Concerned friends and relatives await anxiously, questioning the duration of the rescue effort. Earlier in the week, some were able to catch glimpses of their loved ones through an endoscopic camera inserted into the tunnel. Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami spoke with the workers, noting their good spirits and shared optimism about an imminent rescue.

Efforts to create a micro-tunnel involve sending multiple pipes of varying widths through the estimated 60m debris wall. However, the operation has faced delays and challenges due to factors such as loose soil, hard rock, and falling debris. An American-made auger drill was brought in to address these challenges after excavators proved ineffective in clearing the dense soil and rock mound. Ambulances stand by outside the tunnel, ready to transport the rescued workers to a nearby hospital promptly once they are brought to safety.

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