UTTARKASHI, India, Nov 16 (Reuters) – Rescue workers renewed efforts for a fifth day on Thursday to rescue 40 people trapped in a collapsed highway tunnel in India, making slow progress as they began digging through rock and mud rubble.
Officials are hopeful that a state-of-the-art drilling machine brought in from New Delhi will speed up rescue efforts at the site in the northern state of Uttarakhand.
The plan is to drill a hole for a tube that can be used to crawl to safety for trapped people.
Officials said drilling had penetrated about 3 meters (10 feet) of debris as of Thursday morning, and they had to go through a total of 60 meters.
The machine will drill about 2-2.5 meters of rock per hour, said Ranjit Sinha, the state’s top disaster management officer.
Two of the trapped construction workers were treated for nausea and headaches as they were confined to a small space behind the rubble for a fifth day, officials said.
“There is electricity, water, we are sending food. A new engine that is more powerful and faster has been used,” Union Deputy Minister for Road Transport and Highways and retired army general VK Singh told reporters at the scene.
“Our priority is to save everyone. The morale of the people trapped inside is high. We are very confident of getting them out,” he said.
Singh said Indian agencies involved in the rescue operation were consulting experts in Austria, Norway and Thailand, but did not elaborate.
When asked by local media that India had consulted Thai experts involved in the rescue of 12 boys trapped in a cave complex in 2018, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Thami said: “Technical experts who have dealt with similar situations in foreign countries have also been consulted. .”
The 4.5 km (3 mi) tunnel is part of the Sar Dham Expressway, one of the most ambitious projects of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. The $1.5 billion project aims to connect four Hindu holy sites through 890 km (550 mi) of roads.
Since the tunnel collapse, the trapped people have been given food, water and oxygen by tube and are in contact with rescuers through walkie-talkies.
“Two of them, who complained of nausea and slight headache, were given drugs through a tube and are fine now,” said Urban Yaduvanshi, a local police official.
Local media reported that a six-bed makeshift hospital was set up near the tunnel to provide the men with any medical assistance they may need once they are rescued.
Officials have not said what caused the tunnel to cave in, but the area is prone to landslides, earthquakes and floods. The highway project has faced some criticism from environmentalists and some work was halted in January after hundreds of homes collapsed and were damaged along the route.
The central government has said that it has used environmentally friendly techniques in the design to make the geologically unstable stretches safe.
Reporting by Saurabh Sharma, Writing by YP Rajesh and Tanvi Mehta
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