Efforts to rescue 41 workers trapped in a highway tunnel in the Indian Himalayas for two weeks will be further slowed as rescuers consider drilling through the last 10 meters of debris by hand, an official said on Saturday.
The heavy drill used to break through the nearly 60 meters of debris was damaged on Friday and must be fully withdrawn, according to an official statement.
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 senior official involved in the rescue mission told Reuters that because the damaged machine is unusable, they plan to cut through the remaining debris by hand.
The drill, called an auger, was damaged as it was being pulled out of the nearly 150-foot (47-meter) long pipe that was brought in to free trapped workers after it hit an obstruction on Friday.
Reading Indian rescuers hope to reach the 41 people trapped in the tunnel on Thursday
The machine broke at a joint and some parts are cut out so it can be pulled out of the tunnel. Once removed, drilling will be done manually, the official said.
Sunita Hembrom, who spoke to her trapped brother-in-law Birendra Kishku, 39, said “everyone trapped inside is very worried.”
“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.
Read also The first images from the Indian tunnel show workers trapped for nine days
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.
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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