International teams join forces with NDRF, SDRF to rescue trapped Uttarakhand tunnel collapse workers

Elite rescue teams from Norway and Thailand and the one that successfully rescued the trapped children from a cave in Thailand in 2018 have joined forces to evacuate the 40 workers trapped in an under-construction tunnel in Silkyara in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi district, media reported.

Elite rescue teams from Norway and Thailand joined forces to evacuate the 40 workers trapped in an under-construction tunnel in Silkyara in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi district. Photo courtesy: Uttarkashi Police

A section of the tunnel, a unit of the ambitious Char Dham all-weather road project, collapsed on Sunday due to a landslide. The collapsed portion, measuring 30 meters, is located 270 meters from the tunnel’s entrance on the Silkyara side.

The rescue operations entered the fifth day on Thursday. The approximately 50 metres of debris is posing a big challenge for the rescuers in the fragile mountains where the tunnel is located. The debris needs to be penetrated to insert 800 mm and 900 mm of evacuation tubes.

If this can be achieved successfully, the trapped workers on the other side of the collapsed tunnel can crawl out safely.

Experts have opined that the rescue operation would need the vision of the most experienced professionals given the multiple challenges thrown by the Himalayan region.

Media reports said the ‘American auger’ machine, brought in to clear a passage excavate a passage through the debris of the tunnel section, gave a positive turn to the rescue operation. It is expected to quicken the clearing process and evacuation of the workers.

The specialised equipment has been flown in from New Delhi in disassembled components in three consignments by Hercules aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF), said media reports.

“Rescue operation is underway. We have full hope. We are trying our best,” he told news agency ANI.

The Union Minister said he interacted with the workers and was optimistic that the workers stuck in the tunnel would be evacuated.

He said all resources were being channelled to end the rescue operations in two to three days.

On Thursday, Union Minister General (retired) VK Singh reached the tunnel to assess the progress of the rescue operations. “All options are being explored. The safety of workers is paramount. We are taking opinions from international organisations,” he said.

“A new machine is working, whose power and speed are better than the old machine. Our effort is to complete this rescue operation in two to three days. I talked with them (workers), and their morale is high. They know that the government is working to rescue them,” he said.

Despite over 70 hours of continuous efforts in the rescue operations, on Wednesday a fresh landslide obstructed progress. The rescue teams, who had put hours into constructing a platform for the ‘American auger’, had to dismantle the machine and restart the platform-building process due to the unforeseen landslide.