Rescue Operation on Day 17: Rat-Hole Miners Inches Closer to Trapped Tunnel Workers

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Uttarkashi: The relentless rescue operations at the Silkyara tunnel have reached a critical phase as a team of 24 experienced “rat-hole miners” began manual drilling to reach the 41 trapped workers. Positioned just 5 meters away from the rescue team, these workers have been trapped within the tunnel debris for 17 days. The manual drilling process, aimed at creating a narrow passageway, demands meticulous debris removal and the establishment of a secure route, proving to be a painstaking task.

The initial attempts using a large auger machine hit an obstacle when it became lodged in rubble last Friday, compelling authorities to explore alternative strategies. Among these is the method of vertical drilling from above the tunnel. Approximately 40% of the required 86-meter vertical drilling has been completed, signaling some progress. Monday evening marked the successful removal of the stuck auger, allowing the insertion of a steel pipe deeper into the partially constructed escape passage. Once repaired, a 25-tonne machine is slated to advance an 800-mm pipe as part of the ongoing manual drilling.

While concerns arose about the workers’ ability to navigate through the 800-millimeter diameter pipes, rescue officials downplayed worries, citing their prior experience working in 600-millimeter pipes. Each worker will be equipped with essential safety gear, including helmets, uniforms, masks, and glasses, ensuring their safety during the evacuation process.

Amidst these efforts, the National Disaster Management Authority reported progress in the vertical drilling operation, having reached a depth of 36 meters. However, the rescue operations face additional challenges due to a forecast of rain and temperatures plummeting to 4 degrees Celsius, potentially impeding efforts to free the trapped workers.

Despite the grim situation, a lifeline has been established for the trapped workers, allowing communication through a landline connection facilitated by a pipe. Stationed doctors converse with them twice daily, providing support and updates on the ongoing rescue efforts. Prime Minister Narendra Modi stressed the need for unwavering efforts and urged prayers for the safe evacuation of the workers. In solidarity, his Principal Secretary, PK Mishra, visited the tunnel to review operations, assuring the rescue teams of complete support from the central government. The Silkyara tunnel holds immense significance as a vital component of the central government’s Char Dham all-weather road project, situated about 30 km from Uttarkashi and a seven-hour drive from Dehradun.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by The Kashmir Monitor staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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