The fresh five-point rescue plan for the 41 men trapped in a tunnel in Uttarakhand is focussing on the horizontal drilling that will create a shaft, Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, a member of NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority), told reporters today. He, however, refused to set a time frame for the rescue.
“This is not an easy challenge, so we are exploring every option. All the teams are working on it, that is the only assurance I can give. Can’t establish the timeframe,” he said.
A tunnel-boring machine is being used from the front, and they are also trying to use blast to expand the mouth of the tunnel to insert a micro-boring machine inside, he said, underscoring that the focus right now is on “saving lives”.
But the delay, he assured, will not pose a danger to the men, who have been trapped in the tunnel following a landslide on November 12.
“There is sufficient water and oxygen inside. Power and ration were made available,” he said.
“There’s ample space inside. There is approximately 2 km space. Lighting is available inside. A 4- inch pipe was available which didn’t get destroyed so we had a lifeline,” he said at the press conference. Through this pipe, survival ration was pushed through air compression. Efforts have been to push medicine, he said.
To ensure the workers’ emotional well-being, the families of a few workers have been brought in also.
“The families have been accommodated in the hotels in a built-up area. In one or two cases, they were even able to talk through it… the more the families talk to them, the better morale will be,” he said.
The men have been trapped after a portion of the 4.5-km tunnel on the Brahmakhal-Yamunotri National Highway collapsed. The tunnel — meant to join Silkyara and Dandalgaon in Uttarkashi — is part of the Char Dham project.
The workers, who managed to escape unscathed, are in a 400-meter buffer zone that lies behind 200 meters of rocky debris. Packages of food and water are being passed to them through a pipe. Yesterday, after a wider pipe was installed, the men got their first hot meal in days. Khichdi in bottles were passed down the pipe through air compression.
The rescue efforts, though have been hitting repeated roadblocks.
Over the last week, several plans to cut through the 40-meter rock wall fell through. They also backfired twice, bringing down more rocks and rubble from the unplastered roof, extending the depth of the rock wall from around 40 to over 70 meters.
The last rock-fall took place on Friday, when attempts were made to use an American Auger drill flown in from Delhi.
The drill machine that was being used, had broken down and work had to be stopped till a new one reached. The authorities, however, are pushing on with the Augur drill which cuts rock faster.
Under the current five-point plan, two tunnels are being drilled horizontally from the right and left sides of the main tunnel, while a vertical shaft will be drilled from the top.
Five different agencies have been tasked with carrying out each part of the plan.
The authorities have been advised by an international tunnelling expert team. Besides the national and the state disaster management authorities, a robotics team of team of the defence research organisation DRDO is also at the spot.