On the ninth day of rescue operations at the Silkyara tunnel collapse site here, rescuers on Monday achieved a ‘breakthrough’ by pushing a six-inch-wide pipeline through the rubble of the collapsed portion, where 41 labourers are trapped.
Through this 6-inch alternative lifeline, hot Khichdi was sent to the stranded workers for the first time since they were trapped.
On November 12, it was reported that a collapse occurred in an under-construction tunnel from Silkyara to Barkot due to a muck falling in the 60-metre stretch on the Silkyara side of the tunnel, trapping 41 labourers. As per the government, the labourers are trapped in the 2 km-built tunnel portion, which is complete including concrete work that provides safety to the workers.
Electricity and water are available in the portion of the tunnel and workers are provided food items and medicines through 4-inch compressor pipeline.
After today’s breakthrough, the horizontal boring by National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) from Silkyara end for the rescue of workers through Augur boring machine will be recommenced in the coming time.
Earlier in the day, rescue operation in-charge Colonel Deepak Patil said that although their ‘main challenge’ is evacuating trapped men through 900 mm pipe, which will be attempted later, the food, mobiles, and chargers will be sent inside the tunnel through the 6-inch lifeline.
On what food items will be sent to trapped labourers, he said that, keeping in mind the condition of the labourers, a list has been prepared with the help of doctors on available food options.
“We are bringing plastic cylindrical bottles with wide mouths so that we can send bananas, apples, Khichdi, and Daliya,” he added.
Rescuers filled Khichdi in cylindrical bottles to be sent to the stranded workers.
Hemant, the cook who prepared the Khichdi for the trapped labourers, said that this is the first time a hot meal is being sent to the workers.
“This food will be sent inside the tunnel. This is the first time a hot meal is being sent. We are sending Khichdi. We are only preparing the food which we have been recommended,” he said.
Meanwhile, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said that the work of evacuating the workers trapped is going on at a fast pace and if during this period, any relative of the trapped persons arrives at the site, the government will make arrangements for their travel, accommodation and food.
Earlier in the day, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways in a release said that rescue operations are continuing in full swing to save the trapped workers and constant communication is being maintained with efforts to keep up the morale of the workers trapped in the two km-built tunnel portion.
The release said Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL) is working on another vertical pipeline for the supply of essential items.
It said various government agencies have been involved in the rescue operation and have been assigned specific tasks.
“These agencies are working tirelessly for the safe evacuation of the workers,” the release said.
It said the first machine of SJVNL for the construction of the vertical rescue tunnel has already reached the tunnel site and operations are being commenced post-completion of the access road by the Border Roads Organisation.
Two other machines are being brought for the vertical tunnel construction from Gujarat and Odisha through the road. Work on the construction of a rescue tunnel of 480 metres from Barkot end by Tehri Hydroelectric Development Corporation has commenced.
The release said that machinery for micro-tunneling by Rail Vikas Nigam Limited through horizontal drilling for the rescue of labourers is being transported from Nashik and Delhi.
Machinery for vertical boring are being mobilized by ONGC from USA, Mumbai and Ghaziabad.
The release said that BRO has done commendable work and the approach road for vertical drilling of RVNL and SJVNL has been constructed within 48 hours. Work is continuing for the approach road for ONGC also.
The release said it was decided to lay a 900 mm pipe through the muck as it was the best and fastest possible solution as per the experts’ advice.
However, on November 17, because of ground movement, it became unsafe to continue with this option without securing the structure. Considering the lives involved, it was decided to move on all possible fronts together so that the workers can be rescued as early as possible.
The area in which the workers are trapped is 8.5 metres high and 2 km long. “This is the built up portion of the tunnel where concreting work has been done providing safety to the labourers. Electricity and water are also available in this portion of the tunnel,” the release said
Five options were decided and five different agencies were detailed to carry out these options.
The release said that NHIDCL will continue to drill from Silkyara end after working safety arrangements. To facilitate this Army has prepared the box culvert. A canopy framework is being made to ensure workers’ safety.
Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (SJVNL) is implementing vertical drilling to rescue the trapped labourers. Accordingly, equipment has been mobilized from Gujarat and Odisha through Railways as being 75-tonne equipment it could not be airlifted. ONGC, having expertise in deep drilling, had also started initial work for vertical drilling from Barkot end.
Earlier in the day, the Director of National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation (NHIDCL), Anshu Manish Khulko, said there was an atmosphere of joy among the trapped labourers after they came to know about the installation of a 6-inch pipe in the tunnel.
The NHIDCL Director said the rescuers will now go with full force to evacuate the labourers.
“Earlier there was doubt what would happen if the first lifeline was closed. But now that we have established an alternative lifeline, now we will go with full force,” Khulko said.
Meanwhile, two robotics machines of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) – weighing 20 kg and 50 kg- have arrived at the site.
On the use of the robotics machine from DRDO, the NHIDCL Director said, “An attempt was made to use that machine inside, but as I told you, the strata and rubble inside (the tunnel) are very loose, so it was not successful there.”
Moreover, three aircraft of the Indian Air Force airlifted– a C-17 and two C-130 J aircraft– another 36 tonnes of critical equipment on Monday.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a telephonic conversation with Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami and took stock of the rescue operations underway.
Earlier this morning, International Tunneling Expert Arnold Dix also conducted an inspection at the tunnel site.