We have sent the pipe 53 metres to the other side of the rubble and the trapped workers can hear and experience us, National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) director Anshu Manish Khalkho said. (Image Source: Twitter)
Dehradun: Rescuers on Monday pushed through a six-inch-wide pipeline through the rubble of the collapsed Silkyara-Barkot tunnel, a breakthrough that will help them supply larger quantities of food and possibly allow live visuals of the 41 workers trapped inside for eight days.
So far, a four-inch existing tube was being used to supply oxygen and items like dry fruit and medicines into the section of the tunnel beyond the rubble of the collapsed portion of the under-construction tunnel on the Char Dham route in Uttarakhand.
National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) director Anshu Manish Khalkho called it the "first breakthrough" at the site.
"We have sent the pipe 53 metres to the other side of the rubble and the trapped workers can hear and experience us," he said.
"First achievement, big achievement. The next step is the more vital one and the most important — that’s to get them out intact, happy," his colleague Col. Deepak Patil said.
Drones and robots from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) have also been brought to the site to look into the possibility of other escape routes for the trapped men. The DRDO has sent 2 robots weighing 20 kg and 50 kg. All 41 labourers are reported to be safe inside.
International tunnelling expert Arnold Dix expressed satisfaction at the efforts so far.
The pipeline development comes on the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi called up Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami to take stock of the rescue operation. According to a statement, the PM said it was necessary to keep up the morale of the trapped workers.
Modi's conversation with Mr Dhami was the third since the disaster struck.
Modi called the chief minister and sought a complete update on the ongoing relief and rescue operation to save the lives of 41 workers trapped inside the collapsed tunnel since November 12 morning.
He also enquired about the conditions of the trapped workers as well as the status of relief and rescue operations on the ground.
CM Dhami briefed Modi about the rescue operations in detail and said all the trapped workers were safe with oxygen, nutritious food and water being constantly supplied to them.
The chief minister told the PM that the best possible options and modules of rescue operation action plans have been devised by the Central agencies and experts working on the ground.
He further told the PM that he himself visited the spot and keeping a constant eye on the rescue operation.
Rescue workers were yet to resume the horizontal boring through the debris after a boulder appeared to block the progress of the heavy-duty auger machine earlier this week. But an official statement said this was scheduled to begin in the evening.
The first machine for the construction of a vertical rescue shaft — possibly around 80-metre deep — by drilling from near the hilltop has also reached the tunnel. A road to the hilltop has been laid, and the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) is arranging for more equipment, the statement said.
Also, work has begun on drilling from the other side, the Barkot-end, of the tunnel, it said.
International tunnelling expert Arnold Dix also reached the disaster site to review rescue efforts. He heads the Geneva-based International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association.
Tunnelling expert Dix expressed satisfaction at the efforts so far.
"I have just been down in the tunnel. Enormous amount of work has been done there in preparation, and we are just coming up here at the top of the mountain to consider other options as well," Dix told reporters.
"I only arrived yesterday but the work I have seen even between yesterday and today is extraordinary... The plan for today is working out the best thing to do to get the men out," he said.
Dix did not spell out a timeline.
The 4.5 kilometres tunnel collapsed at its Silkyara village end in Uttarkashi more than 8 days ago. The tunnel crumbled down owing to a landslide during shift change in the morning.