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Uttarakhand Tunnel: Hopes Rest on Manual Drilling to Save 41 Trapped Workers as Augur Machine Breaks

Stuck parts of the augur machine being removed. Six rat hole workers miners arrive from Delhi, Jhansi.
Rescue operation underway to extract 41 workers trapped inside the collapsed Silkyara Tunnel, in Uttarkashi district, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023.

Rescue operation underway to extract 41 workers trapped inside the collapsed Silkyara Tunnel, in Uttarkashi district, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023. Image Courtesy: PTI

New Delhi: As the weather becomes colder in the hills of Uttarakhand, 41 workers continue to be trapped inside an under-construction tunnel in Silkyara of Uttarkashi, a part of which collapsed 15 days ago.

With nothing but hopes and prayers on the lips of families, rescue work suffered a setback when parts of the augur machine being used to drill got stuck and broke on Sunday.

On Monday, the authorities said they would now begin manual drilling to reach the trapped workers and prepare an escape route. At least six rat hole miners have arrived from Delhi and Jhansi to enter the small tunnels and dig manually, says an Indian Express report quoting officials.

The auger drill -- a corkscrew-like device with a rotary blade at the front end -- that was drilling into the debris got stuck Friday evening, forcing officials to give up on the 25-tonne machine.

Parts of the auger were left to be removed from an 8.15-metre area on Sunday night. Extracting the shaft and fins of the machine from the rubble completely was necessary to pave the way for manual drilling and pushing of pipes which is in the final stretch with around 12 metres more to go, said a PTI report.

According to media reports, Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (retd), member, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), said after vertically drilling through the hill, the crust of the tunnel has to be cut for rescue of the workers. “If it’s successful, then the workers will be lifted by buckets one by one,” he added.

Another official, closely observing the rescue work, told Times of India, “The 41 workers did so well thus far... Now, ration is being stockpiled and the oxygen pipe extended—all part of precautionary measures in case debris starts falling during vertical drilling or from any other entry point and communication snaps.”

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