At least 40 construction workers were trapped Sunday after a road tunnel they were building collapsed in northern India, with rescuers scrambling to reach them under piles of rubble.
The collapse occurred early Sunday morning in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand as a group of workers was moving out and replacement workers were moving in.
“About 200 meters (218 yards) of the tunnel has collapsed,” said Durgesh Rathodi, a state disaster response officer. AFP from the website.
“About 40 to 41 workers are trapped inside. Oxygen is being supplied through the debris, but more debris is falling as rescuers try to clear the obstacle.”
The 4.5 km (2.7 mi) tunnel is being built between Silkyara and Dandalgaon to connect two of the holiest Hindu shrines of Uttarkashi and Yamnotri.
Photos released by government rescue teams showed huge piles of concrete blocking the wide tunnel, with twisted metal bars in its broken roof falling down in front of the rubble.
“Pray to God that the workers trapped inside the tunnel come out safely,” Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami wrote on social media platform X.
Read also: India to declare dead 79 people missing in Himalayan lake floods
Rathodi, the disaster response official, said a message was sent to the trapped workers through a tube pumping oxygen into the blocked section of the tunnel, assuring them that “every effort is being made for your safety”.
“No response to the message has yet come from within,” he said AFPadding that more rubble was coming down from above as the machines continued to remove the debris.
A local police officer told the Press Trust of India news agency that they were “very optimistic” that the men would be rescued safely, but added that it was “difficult to say how long it will take”.
The tunnel is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Char Dham Road scheme, which is meant to improve connectivity for some of the most popular Hindu shrines in the country, as well as areas bordering China.
Accidents at major infrastructure construction sites are common in India.
In January, at least 200 people were killed in flash floods in ecologically fragile Uttarakhand in a disaster that experts partly blamed on overdevelopment.
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