Uttarakhand Tunnel Collapse: Challenges Remain In Rescue of Trapped Workers

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An official looks at a pipeline during the rescue operation at Silkyara tunnel near Uttarkashi in Uttarakhand on Tuesday, November21, 2023. ANI Photo

NEW DELHI: Fresh connection through a newly inserted six-inch diameter pipeline making communicating with at least 41 workers trapped inside the collapsed Silkyara Tunnel on Char-Dham Road in Uttarakhand renewed hopes of rescue on Tuesday, November 21, 2023.

But the challenges of boring and putting in place a rescue pipeline with the use of an advance boring machine still remain despite consultation with the top experts in this technology and work on deep boring tunnel in the Himalayan Region. ANI and PTI have reported that establishment of a communication pipeline with the trapped workers has brought some relief to the families of the trapped workers, who have been struck there for the tenth consecutive day.

The two news agencies quoting some family members of the trapped workers said they could hear the workers clearly through the new pipeline, which will also be used for sending larger quantities inside the tunnel.

The news agency reports quoting rescue workers on the spot said that an alternative 6-inch pipeline was pushed in through the rubble of the collapsed tunnel on Monday.

Till Monday, a four-inch existing tube was being used to supply oxygen and items like dry fruits and medicines into the section of the tunnel beyond the rubble of the collapsed portion.

During his visit to Silkyara on Sunday, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami had asked officials to ensure that the family members of the trapped workers do not face any inconvenience. He also directed them to allow the family members to communicate with the trapped workers.

Rescue operations are being carried out on a war footing since portions of the tunnel collapsed following a landslide early on November 12, leaving the workers trapped behind a huge mound of debris.

The Silkyara tunnel, about 30 km from the district headquarters of Uttarkashi and a seven-hour drive from the Uttarakhand capital Dehradun, is part of the ambitious Char Dham all-weather road project of the central government.

Trapped Workers Come On Camera

The first visuals of the 41 workers trapped inside Silkyara tunnel emerged Tuesday, raising hopes of families anxiously awaiting their evacuation as a multi-pronged rescue effort entered its 10th day.

A screen grab of communication with trapped inside collapsed tunnel on the monitor through a camera as part of rescue operations at Silkyara in Uattarakhand on Tuesday, November 21, 2023.

The visuals were captured using an endoscopic camera sent in through a six-inch pipeline, which was pushed Monday through the rubble of the collapsed portion of tunnel on Uttarakhand’s Char Dham route, ANI news agency have reported.

In a video released by the rescue agencies, the workers wearing yellow and white helmets, are seen receiving food items sent to them through the pipeline and talking to each other inside the tunnel.

Officials watching them on a monitor screen could be heard giving instructions, asking them to clean the lens and show themselves on camera. They are heard asking them to come near the pipeline and use the walkie-talkies, sent to them earlier.

But the new wider ‘lifeline’, which pierced through 53 metres of rubble, has come as a boost to the morale of the rescue workers. Communication is much better and larger quantities of food can now be sent in.

On social media platform, Dhami said he informed the PM about communicating with the workers using the endoscopic camera. “The prime minister said it is our top priority to rescue all the workers safely,” the CM posted.

Silkyara Tunnel Collapse

The tunnel collapsed following a landslide early on November 12, leaving 41 workers trapped behind a huge mound of debris.

On Friday afternoon, efforts to drill through the debris with a huge auger machine received a setback when it encountered a boulder.

Apart from resuming this operation, which involves inserting sections of a steel pipe as the machine drills through, rescue agencies have begun work on alternative plans to ensure safe evacuation of the trapped construction workers.

These include drilling more than 80 metres vertically from above the tunnel to reach the two-kilometre built-up stretch where the workers are now confined.

Drilling from the other, Balkot-end, of the tunnel is another alternative on which the rescue agencies are working. Drilling parallel tunnels is also being considered.

Some of the heavy machinery for these new approaches has reached the disaster site.

A road has also been constructed to haul up a 75-tonne machine up the hill to begin vertical drilling.

In New Delhi, the government issued an advisory to private television channels, asking them to be sensitive in their coverage of the rescue operations.

I&B Ministry Advisory To TV channels on Uttarakhand Tunnel Rescue Ops
The Information & Broadcasting Ministry on Tuesday issued an advisory to the television channels to refrain from sensationalizing the ongoing rescue operation underway at Silkyara, Uttarakhand and from undertaking any live posts/videos from close proximity of the tunnel site where the rescue operations are underway.
It urged them to ensure that the human life saving activity by the various agencies is in no way disrupted or disturbed by the very presence of cameramen, reporters or equipment near or around the operations site.
The ministry said the Government is keeping constant communication and making all efforts to keep up the morale of the workers trapped in the 2 km-built tunnel portion. Various Government agencies are working tirelessly for the safe evacuation of 41 workers.
The operation underway around the tunnel is of an extremely sensitive nature involving saving so many lives. Telecast of video footages and other pictures relating to the operations by the TV channels specially by placing cameras and other equipment at close proximity to the rescue operations site have the potential to adversely affect the ongoing operations.
The Ministry has advised the TV channels to be cautious and sensitive while reporting on the matter especially in putting out headlines, videos & images and take due care of the sensitive nature of operation, psychological status of the family members and as well as the viewers in general.