Silkyara Tunnel Collapse: Technical Snag Halts Rescue

Dehradun: The attempt to rescue 41 trapped workers hit a major hurdle after the blades of the auger machine drilling through the rubble to make an escape package inside the collapsed Silkyara tunnel got stuck in the debris late Friday night, forcing officials to consider switching to other options that could drag on the rescue operations by several weeks more.

Late on Friday night, the drill snout of the auger machine broke and got stuck in the metal obstacle that prevented it from drilling ahead.

On day 14 of the multi-agency rescue mission, officials shifted focus to two alternatives -- manual drilling through the remaining 10–12-meter stretch of the rubble or, more likely, drilling down 86 metres from above.

The vertical drilling will start in the next 24 to 36 hours, NDMA member Lt. Gen. Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd) said, adding that the front part of the auger machine was broken and efforts are being made to retrieve those from the tunnel.

He indicated that this was the quicker of the two main options now being considered.

According to Lt. Gen. Hasnain, this rescue operation is getting technically more complex every day. “This operation could take a long time,” the NDMA member said at his media briefing.

At the disaster site, international tunnelling expert Arnold Dix repeated his promise of getting the workers out “by Christmas”, which is a month away.

As the report was being filed, the rescue operation to save 41 lives trapped under a collapsed tunnel for 14 days was on hold, while Mr Dhami said that it will resume after the drilling path was cleared by Sunday afternoon.

Speaking to the media at Silkyara, chief minister Pushkar Dhami on Saturday said that the passage work will now be done manually once the crashed component of the equipment is disposed of using a plasma cutter supplied from Hyderabad.

"Nearly 20 metres of the machine part stuck in the rubble has been removed, with the remaining 25 metres being done by the experts. The present speed of cutting iron rod obstacles is slow. A plasma cutter is being brought from Hyderabad for fast disposal of the obstacles. It's likely to be over by Sunday afternoon," said Mr Dhami.

"Only a small portion of the passage is left. We are leaving no stone unturned in our efforts and hope to bring out our brothers trapped in the tunnel as early as possible," the chief minister added.

"I have also spoken to those inside the tunnel. All are fine and happy. They said, no matter how much time it takes, but evacuate us safely. We are working on all options. Work for vertical drilling has also started. Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limit (SJVNL) has started work on vertical drilling while RVNL is engaged in horizontal drilling from Barkot end," Mr Dhami said.

The authorities have given mobile phones and board games to the 41 trapped workers to alleviate their stress, an official said on Saturday.

"The mobile phones have been given so that the workers can play video games. Board games like ludo, snakes and ladders have also been provided to them," an official said.

"These games will help them bust their stress," another officer said.

Besides horizontal and vertical drilling, the rescuers are also deliberating whether the trapped workers could also take up debris clearing tasks from their end since the distance left is hardly 10–12 metres.

According to an official, "Workers claim they have smelled the gas emanating from the metals when technicians were working to clear obstructions through gas cutters and other means. This indicated their closeness to the debris. They can be urged to clear it from their side if possible."

It's significant that the length of the escape passage to be drilled across the tunnel debris is 57–60 metres, but so far only 47 metres of work has been completed.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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