Rescuers trying to reach 40 workers trapped in a collapsed highway tunnel in the Indian Himalayas since last weekend temporarily halted work on Friday after their drilling machine became stuck, authorities said.
The men have been stuck in the hillside tunnel in Uttarakhand state since Sunday morning after it caved in.
They have light, receive oxygen, food, water and medication through a tube and talk by walkie-talkie. Although officials say they are fine, families are waiting anxiously, some camped outside.
Efforts to reach them have been slowed by falling debris while drilling, and a new machine flown in from New Delhi began work on Thursday to make room to push through pipes so the men could crawl to safety .
Read more: Heavy machinery brought in to extricate Indian workers from collapsed tunnel
The pipes had been pushed for 22 meters (72 feet) – about a third of the way – when there was a jam on Friday afternoon, said the state-run National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation (NHIDCL), which is building the tunnel.
“The machine is unable to push more as the machine is lifted” and its bearings are damaged, the statement said, adding that work was continuing to anchor the machine to the platform.
Engineers at the site are making replacement bearings to restart it, NHIDCL director Anshu Manish Khalkho told Reuters.
District Chief Medical Officer RCS Pawar said the temperature inside the tunnel is higher than outside and there were no complaints from the men about feeling cold.
Nighttime temperatures have dropped to 13 degrees Celsius (55°F) as winter sets in.
The 4.5-kilometer (3-mile) tunnel is part of the Char Dham Expressway, one of the most ambitious projects of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
Authorities have not said what caused the tunnel to cave in, but the area is prone to landslides, earthquakes and flooding.
Arnold Dix, the president of the Australia-based International Tunneling and Underground Association, who is among the experts being consulted by the rescuers, said it was necessary to take time and care.
“We cannot go fast and risk a second disaster,” he told Reuters. “This situation is extremely dangerous and we must be extremely careful.”
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