The rescue of 41 workers trapped in a highway tunnel in the Indian Himalayas for two weeks will take much longer than previously expected as rescuers switch to manual drilling after machinery was damaged, officials said Saturday.
The heavy drill brought in to break up nearly 60 meters of debris was damaged on Friday and was completely withdrawn, government officials said, adding that the last 10-15 meters will have to be broken with manual power tools.
The men, construction workers from some of India’s poorest states, have been stuck in the 4.5km tunnel being built in Uttarakhand state since it caved in early on November 12. Authorities said they are safe, with access to light, oxygen, food, water and medicine.
A heavy drill, called an auger, which was damaged after hitting an obstacle on Friday, broke while being pulled out of the 47m pipe that was brought in to free the trapped workers.
Pushkar Singh Dhami, chief minister of Uttarakhand state, said on Saturday that the damaged drilling rig would be removed by Sunday morning, allowing manual drilling to begin.
Syed Ata Hasnain, a member of the National Disaster Management Authority overseeing rescue efforts, said the operation was becoming “more complicated” and the process would be slower, compared to when the drill was used to drill.
Reading: Indian rescuers hope to reach the 41 people trapped in the tunnel on Thursday
“We have to strengthen our brothers who are stuck inside. We have to monitor their psychological state, because this operation can go on for a long time,” he said, without giving a timetable.
On Saturday morning the trapped workers, all migrants, were “very worried”, said Sunita Hebrom, whose brother-in-law Birendra Kisco, 39, is in the tunnel.
“My brother-in-law told me that he has not eaten since yesterday. We are very worried,” he said.
Authorities have not said what caused the tunnel to collapse, but the area is prone to landslides, earthquakes and flooding.
The tunnel had no emergency exit and was built through a geological fault, a member of a team of experts investigating the disaster said on Friday, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.
The rescue plan involves pushing a pipe wide enough to pull the trapped men out on wheeled stretchers. Rescue workers rehearsed the evacuation by going into the pipe and being pulled on stretchers, a video clip provided by authorities showed.
A second plan for vertical drilling from the top of the hill is also being pursued and drilling machines are being assembled, the statement said.
The men had been receiving cooked food since a larger life tube was released earlier this week, and the statement said they had been sent 200 rotis, or Indian round bread, lentils and vegetable curry.
More than a dozen doctors, including psychiatrists, have been on the scene, talking to the men and monitoring their health.
Reading: The first images from the Indian tunnel show workers trapped for nine days
They have been advised to do light yoga exercises, walk in the 2 km area that has been restricted and keep talking to each other. Rohit Gondwal, a psychiatrist, said they are also thinking of sending cards and board games.
The collapsed tunnel is on the Char Dham pilgrimage route, one of the most ambitious projects of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
It aims to connect four major Hindu pilgrimage sites with 890 kilometers (550 miles) of two-lane road, at a cost of $1.5 billion.
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