Uttarkashi rescue
Indian Air Force (IAF) aircrafts C-17 and C-130 airlifts over 36 tonnes of critical equipment, which would be employed to rescue 41 stranded workers in Silkyara tunnel. Image Credit: ANI

Uttarkashi (Uttarakhand) [India]: On the ninth day of rescue operations at the Silkyara tunnel collapse site, rescuers achieved a significant breakthrough on Monday. They successfully inserted a six-inch-wide pipeline through the rubble of the collapsed portion, where 41 labourers are trapped. For the first time since their entrapment, hot Khichdi was sent to the stranded workers through this alternative lifeline.

The collapse, which occurred on November 12, trapped 41 labourers in an under-construction tunnel from Silkyara to Barkot. The collapse resulted from muck falling in a 60-meter stretch on the Silkyara side of the tunnel. According to the government, the labourers are trapped in a 2 km-built tunnel portion that is complete, including concrete work for safety. The portion has electricity and water, and workers receive food items and medicines through a 4-inch compressor pipeline.

Following this breakthrough, the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) will resume horizontal boring from the Silkyara end using an Augur boring machine to rescue the workers.

Colonel Deepak Patil, the rescue operation in-charge, stated that the main challenge is evacuating the trapped individuals through a 900 mm pipe, which will be attempted later. For now, essential items such as food, mobiles, and chargers will be sent inside the tunnel through the 6-inch lifeline. The rescue team, in consultation with doctors, has prepared a list of recommended food options, including bananas, apples, Khichdi, and Daliya, which will be sent in plastic cylindrical bottles.

Hemant, the cook who prepared the Khichdi, mentioned that this marks the first time a hot meal is being sent to the workers. Meanwhile, Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami assured that the evacuation efforts are progressing rapidly, and arrangements will be made for the travel, accommodation, and food of any relatives who arrive at the site.

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways reported that various agencies, including Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL), are working on additional pipelines for the supply of essential items. The release highlighted the involvement of multiple government agencies, such as SJVNL, ONGC, and BRO, in the ongoing rescue operation.

The release outlined the mobilization of machinery for vertical tunnel construction and micro-tunneling, emphasizing the collaborative efforts to ensure the safety of the workers. It mentioned the decision to lay a 900 mm pipe through the muck and the subsequent adjustment of strategies due to safety concerns.

The NHIDCL Director expressed optimism after the installation of the 6-inch pipe, stating that rescuers would now proceed with full force. Additionally, two robotics machines from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and an airlift of critical equipment by the Indian Air Force were reported.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a telephonic conversation with Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami, and International Tunneling Expert Arnold Dix conducted an inspection at the tunnel site earlier in the day.