Tunnel Collapse Rescue Team Changes Efforts
Rescue teams are reportedly looking at alternative methods for rescuing workers currently trapped in the Chardham tunnel in Uttarakhand, India, after concerns of more debris falling from the fragile mountain terrain complicated efforts.
According to reports, the number of workers trapped in the tunnel has also now been corrected to 41, as fear over the health and wellbeing of the workers continues after almost 200 hours trapped in the dark tunnel.
On Nov. 12, a rescue team began to dig through parts of a collapsed road tunnel in an effort to save workers who had been trapped by a landslide at a construction project site in northern India.
According to reports at the time, 40 workers were trapped while building part of the Chardham all-weather road, a federal government project connecting several Hindu pilgrimage sites.
Rescuers in #India tunnel collapse change approach as frantic efforts pass one-week mark— OZ Arab Media (@ozarabmedia) November 20, 2023
New Delhi CNN —
Indian authorities are exploring new ways to rescue 40 construction workers https://t.co/PN5873thbD #Indiatunnelcollapse pic.twitter.com/MvBGXHKX7q
A report from AP News at the time stated that all the construction workers were safe, adding that they had been supplied with oxygen and water. Additionally, police officer Prashant Kumar told The Associated Press that the rescuers had been able to establish contact with the miners.
Rescue efforts reportedly started the day of the incident, with authorities pumping oxygen through a pipe into the collapsed section of the tunnel to help workers breathe as they dug into the collapsed structure.
Additionally, initial contact was made through a note on a scrap of paper, though since then rescuers had been able to contact the miners with radio handsets.
A separate report from ABC News added that the amount of workers trapped at the site, which was estimated at the time to be 40 in total, was confirmed the day after the incident by Rajesh Pawar, the project manager at the Navyug Construction Company, currently in charge of construction on the tunnel. That number has since been updated to 41 workers.
According to more recent reports, however, excavators had removed about 20 meters of heavy debris by Nov. 13, though the miners are still 40 meters beyond that point.
Officials stated that the collapsed portion of the 2.7-mile tunnel is about 200 meters (500 feet) from the entrance.
Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami reportedly flew out to the site, stating on the social media platform X that contact “has been made with the workers trapped in the tunnel through a walkie-talkie. Efforts are being made to get them out safely soon."
AP reported in an update that most of the workers stuck inside were migrant laborers from across the country.
Photographs released by India’s government rescue teams reportedly showed large piles of rubble blocking the tunnel, with twisted metal bars on its broken roof poking down in front of the mess.
In an update from Friday (Nov. 17), disaster management official Devendra Patwal told AP News that drilling with a new machine had begun the previous day and had covered a stretch of 25 meters, though it may require up to 60 meters to enable the trapped workers’ escape.
The drilling was reportedly interrupted, however, when damage was caused to machine bearings in the process of breaking rocks and clearing the debris, Anshu Manish Khalko, Director of the National Highway Authority stated. Khalko added at the time that the machine was being repaired and anchored.
Additionally, a large specialist drill was reportedly sent in from Delhi, though the operation came to a halt for safety reasons after a loud cracking noise was heard.
Bloomberg reported that, that due to the site’s terrain and diverse geology, it has been difficult to estimate how much weight it can safely support, which is vital in planning large infrastructure and urban expansion projects.
Central Government Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari noted that the rescue teams were “facing challenges due to the complex and fragile geology of the Himalayas. The mountain is loose and fractured at the site.”
Authorities in Uttarakhand often reportedly tear down forests and clear grassland, harming the natural ecosystem which would typically help reduce environmental shocks. With fewer trees to strengthen the ground with their roots and reduce the impacts of heavy winds and rain with their foliage, the risk of landslides will reportedly increase.
Because of this, the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation reportedly warned workers that there was a “strong possibility of further collapse.”
A report from CNN states that state authorities have now also approved buying equipment and hiring more workers to begin using options like constructing escape tunnels.
“We have decided to go with a pause-and-go approach to maintain the equilibrium,” Khalkho said.
Another report from The Guardian adds that Bhaskar Khulbe, member of a specialist team from the Prime Minister’s Office, announced that five government agencies had been brought in to the rescue operation. The government reportedly announced that the new “five-point plan” would involve drilling into the tunnel from three directions, including vertically and horizontally from either side.
New roads have also reportedly been constructed to transport more machinery to the site as rescue efforts continue. However, Khulbe stated on Sunday (Nov. 19) that it could be another “four to five days” before the men could be reached.
Reports also add that some of the workers say they are experiencing fevers and body aches, though there has been no deterioration in their condition.
Nuts, roasted chickpeas, popcorn and medicine are all reportedly sent to them through a pipe every two hours, though an operation is reportedly ongoing to place a larger pipe into the cavity so that bread and fruit can be passed through.
Medical experts have reportedly stated that the longer the efforts go on, the greater the threat to the health and mental stability of the trapped workers.
However, Gadkari also assured the public that the trapped workers are safe and in good spirits. “Keeping up the morale of the trapped workers and their family members should be everyone’s collective responsibility at the moment,” he added.