Tunnel Rescue in Last Stage, Workers' Evacuation Today

Dehradun/Uttarkashi/New Delhi: As rescue work enters the final stretch at the partially collapsed Silkyara-Barkot Uttarkashi tunnel, hopes are high that if the ongoing horizontal drilling remains unhindered, rescuers will reach the 41 trapped workers by Thursday morning, officials said.

Meanwhile, ambulances were on standby and doctors were summoned to the disaster site as a multi-agency effort to rescue 41 men trapped in the partially collapsed tunnel appeared close to success on Wednesday evening.

At a press briefing around 4 pm, officials at Silkyara said another six-metre section of the rescue pipe had been inserted as an auger machine drilled through debris from the collapsed stretch of the tunnel.

Going by the figures given earlier in the day, this indicated that 45 metres of the escape passage had been created out of the estimated 57 metres stretch of debris beyond which the workers have been trapped for the last 11 days.

In Delhi, a press release reporting the progress till 2 pm said the steel pipe had been inserted up to the 42-metre mark. It said 67 per cent of the auger drilling was completed.

Once the pipe, which is a little under a metre wide, is inserted, workers can crawl out through it.

A team of 15 doctors, including a chest specialist, has been deployed at the site in anticipation of the evacuation. Twelve ambulances were on standby at the spot and the plan was to keep a fleet of 40 ready. A helicopter was also expected to be earmarked for the operation.

A makeshift eight-bed hospital has been set up in the vicinity of the under-construction tunnel on the Char Dham route.

At the Silkyara briefing, former advisor with the Prime Minister's Office Bhaskar Khulbe was upbeat, saying that another six-metre section of the rescue pipe had been inserted over the past hour.

"Hopefully the next two-three hours will be comfortable in terms of assembling for the next push and attaining what all of us are waiting for," he said, referring to the continuing process of pushing in steel pipe sections.

Earlier in the day, Union ministry of road transport and highways (MoRTH) additional secretary Mahmood Ahmed had said that the complete focus of the rescue operation is now on horizontal drilling from both ends of the 4.5 km tunnel that crumbled down under a huge landslide early in the morning on November 12.

Mr Ahmed said that the auger machine being used for horizontal drilling pushed 18 metres of additional 800 mm steel pipeline after drilling restarted on Wednesday.

"Drilling resumed at around 12.45 am today. If it remains unhindered, we will be able to get some good news late tonight or tomorrow morning," said Mr Ahmed.

Uttarakhand government's nodal officer and secretary Neeraj Khairwal said that similar to video communication made earlier with trapped workers, the NDRF and SDRF teams have set up an audio channel for regular communication.

"First to speak to the trapped workers were doctors who tried to know about their health conditions. Some of them complained of constipation, following which they were sent medicines. Psychiatrists are also speaking to them to understand their mental health conditions. They are upbeat and motivated after a special food pipeline was set up and told about the efforts being made to rescue them safely."

According to Mr Khairwal, sufficient food items have reached the trapped workers after initial hiccups in delivering cooked food. "They are also being provided undergarments, towels, tooth brushes and other possible items that can be delivered through the food pipeline," said Mr Khairwal.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle with agency inputs )
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