Disasters & Accidents

Indian rescue teams within five meters of 41 trapped workers, authorities say

New Delhi, Nov 28 (EFE).- Rescue teams are about five meters away from the 41 workers who were trapped 17 days ago in a tunnel under construction in northern India, officials said Tuesday.

“Almost 52 meters has been done (pipe inserted),” the chief minister of the government of the northern state of Uttarakhand, where the tunnel is located, Pushkar Singh Dhami, said in a statement to the media.

The minister said that the teams hoped to have a clear path to the workers once they managed to drill 57 meters of the thick wall of rubble behind which they were trapped.

“Earlier steel girders were found (during drilling), this has reduced now. Right now, we are finding more of concrete, it is being cut with (the) cutter,” he added.

The workers were trapped in the early hours of Nov. 12 when a section of a tunnel under construction collapsed, causing a blanket nearly 60 meters thick.

Since that day, the rescuers have used two tunnel boring machines to horizontally drill a hole in the thick wall of rubble and insert a series of pipes almost a meter in diameter as they advanced through which they planned to extract the workers.

After the second machine, which had previously suffered several technical setbacks when it collided with metallic obstacles, broke down on Monday, the authorities decided to continue the work using the primitive rat-hole mining technique, with three six-member teams taking turns inside the narrow tunnel to continue the excavation manually.

This technique, which is used for coal exploitation in some regions of India, is considered dangerous by some environmental organizations that point out the risk of sending people, in many cases children, through small tunnels.

International tunneling expert Arnold Dix recently said that it was no longer possible to continue drilling horizontally with machinery and that it would only be possible manually.

Once the rescuers manage to break the wall that separates them from the workers and insert the last pipe into the hole, they are expected to begin removing the workers, one by one, on special stretchers that will be pulled by ropes from the other end of the pipe.

“The manner in which the work is ongoing, we hope that there will be a breakthrough very soon. As soon as the pipe goes through, the process of bringing out them (workers) will begin,” the minister said.

The authorities also have two other alternative plans to reach the workers, including vertical drilling, which has completed about 30 meters of the almost 90 meters needed to be drilled to reach the workers.

Since the start of rescue operations, the trapped workers have received essential supplies, including food, water, medicines, and oxygen, through a narrow pre-existing pipe. EFE

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