In a race against time, rescue teams have shifted their strategy to drill vertically in a renewed effort to reach the 41 construction workers trapped in a collapsed tunnel in northern India. Initial attempts were hindered by debris and technical setbacks, prompting the decision to dig from the top of a hill.
The workers, stranded since November 12, have been surviving on a meagre diet of nuts and roasted chickpeas delivered through a pipe. The 4.5-kilometer tunnel, part of the Chardham all-weather road project connecting Hindu pilgrimage sites, caved in due to a landslide about 200 meters from the entrance.
Despite the challenging terrain, an access road has been constructed atop the hill to facilitate the vertical drilling process. Devendra Patwal, a disaster management official, expressed optimism that this new approach would expedite the rescue, with expectations that the drilling will reach the tunnel in just a few days.
Uttarakhand, renowned for its Hindu temples, has witnessed a surge in construction activities to accommodate pilgrims and tourists. Over 200 disaster relief personnel are tirelessly working at the site, utilising drilling equipment and excavators.
The previous horizontal drilling method, involving breaking through rocks to create an escape route, was abandoned after machine damage and increased debris. The decision to drill vertically, though posing its own challenges, will involve specialised techniques for unstable ground.
Rescuers now face the daunting task of digging 103 meters to reach the trapped workers, nearly twice the distance of continuing from the tunnel’s front. Despite this shift, officials emphasize that efforts to reach the workers through the horizontal tunnel will persist alongside the vertical drilling operation.