Silkyara tunnel, Uttakarshi, trapped worker

Visual of a worker trapped inside the under-construction Silkyara tunnel in Uttakarshi district of Uttarakhand. Photo: PTI

Uttarakhand ground report | Trapped tunnel workers 'coping well'

Drilling bigger hole facilitates provision of solid food and medicines; workers' colleagues say they're physically, mentally conditioned for hardships

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Even while efforts are on to rescue 41 workers trapped inside Uttarkashi's Silkyara tunnel for 10 days, some relief came in on Tuesday (November 21), as rescuers released the first video of the trapped workers. The visuals from the collapsed part of the tunnel were captured using an endoscopic flexi camera sent in through an alternative 6-inch pipeline. The camera was sent in after it came from Delhi late on Monday evening (November 20).

A Puthiya Thalaimurai correspondent reporting from the spot said the morale of the trapped workers and their family seemed robust. The reporter also spoke to a few workers whose colleagues are trapped in the tunnel. They said they usually work in 12-hour shifts, from 8 am to 8 pm, and are used to the rigours of the work. Even during heavy rains and temperatures of 4 degree Celsius, they continue working since they are acclimatised to the conditions in Uttarakhand.

"They also said that they were aware of what could happen in case misfortune strikes, and that the trapped workers would be resilient," the correspondent said.

Morale high

In the video, the workers, wearing yellow and white helmets, are seen receiving food items sent to them through the pipeline and talking to each other.

Earlier, just a 4-inch tunnel was used to send very basic items. Now that a 6-inch hole is operational, rescue workers said, solid food like rotis and bread, as well as medicines, cameras and phones can be reached to those trapped inside.

An endoscopic camera has facilitated better communication between those below and the rescuers. Both parties are now able to see and hear each other better, and the workers and their families are able to communicate with one another. This does a world of good for their morale, said the correspondent.

The trapped workers have conveyed to their families that they are coping well, and have asked their wives and children not to worry about them. In turn, those who communicate with the workers in the tunnel are giving them only optimistic messages and the confidence that they will soon be rescued.

Vertical drilling efforts

The experts have identified several spots that could be used for vertical drilling into the tunnel. Domestic and international geologists and surveyors, using the help of GPS and radar, have decided that the drilling machine would face least resistance, in terms of hard rocks, through these trajectories. The tunnel is about 120 metres below the surface.

The drilling machine will suck out the soil and debris as it drills. The drilling is being done very carefully and slowly because there is the danger that as the drilling progresses, the earth could crumble and cause further damage. Most of the rock in the region seems to be brittle, and is one of the main reasons for the tunnel collapse. Too much disturbance of brittle rocks on the surface (during rescue operations) could lead to a landslide, which the rescue team is keen to avoid.

Rescue operations are being carried out on a war footing since portions of the tunnel collapsed following a landslide early on November 12, leaving the workers trapped behind a huge mound of debris.

The Silkyara tunnel, about 30 km from the district headquarters of Uttarkashi and a seven-hour drive from the Uttarakhand capital Dehradun, is part of the ambitious Char Dham all-weather road project of the Union government.

Modi speaks to Dhami

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami on Tuesday (November 21), the second day in a row, to enquire about the rescue operation. In a post on X, Dhami said he told Modi that the workers are safe and underlined that the rescue mission is the topmost priority.

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