On November 12, the Silkyara Tunnel project suffered a collapse, trapping 40 construction workers within the rubble.
In Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi district, the ongoing rescue mission to extricate 40 construction workers trapped beneath debris in a collapsed tunnel has reached its fifth day. Since the collapse of the Silkyara Tunnel project on November 12, the workers have endured more than 96 hours of confinement, with their lives hanging in the balance.
The trapped workers are receiving essential supplies of food and medicines, and rescue teams are maintaining regular communication to uplift their spirits and keep hope alive. Elite rescue teams from Thailand and Norway, known for their success in the 2018 cave rescue in Thailand, have joined efforts to support the ongoing operation.
A significant development in the rescue operation occurred with the deployment of an ‘American auger’ machine, transported from New Delhi. This specialized equipment is expected to expedite the clearing process, bringing the trapped workers closer to safety. The machine, arriving in disassembled components at Chinyalisaur airport, over 30 kilometers from the collapsed tunnel, will be used to excavate a passage through the debris.
Once the passage is cleared, segments of mild steel pipes with diameters of 800 mm and 900 mm will be installed one at a time. This process aims to create a pathway for the trapped workers on the other side of the rubble to crawl to safety.
The rescue efforts faced setbacks as a fresh landslide occurred after over 70 hours of continuous operations. Despite hours spent constructing a platform for the ‘American auger,’ the new landslide necessitated the disassembly of the machine and a restart of platform construction.
Dr. Sudhir Krishna, a former secretary at the Union Urban Development Ministry, highlighted the complexities of infrastructure projects in the Himalayan region. He pointed out challenges such as the soft rock composition of the Himalayan region, the presence of unstable rocks, landslides, and land subsidence, emphasizing the difficult conditions faced in the rescue work.
“The state government or the centre cannot do it alone. They have to work together along with a lot of experts who have a vision. For example, this project is intended to reduce travel time from 50 minutes to five minutes, allowing two-way traffic, allowing SUVs to ply. What is the great hurry? 50 minutes is not a long time,” Dr Krishna said.
The under-construction tunnel is part of the ambitious Char Dham project, a national infrastructure initiative to enhance connectivity to the Hindu pilgrimage sites of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri.