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Rescue efforts stepped up on fifth day, suggestions sought from foreign experts

Friday, 17 November 2023 | PNS | DEHRADUN 

As rescuers continued efforts on the fifth day to rescue 40 workers stranded by debris inside the under construction Silkyara tunnel in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand on Thursday, the authorities are also taking the help of experts from Norway and Thailand who were involved in rescuing the junior football team from a cave in Thailand during 2018. After earlier attempts to drill through the debris failed due to mechanical issues, a more powerful drill transported by three Indian Air Force aircrafts was assembled at the site and made operational on Thursday. Officials stated that the machine had started drilling and a nine metre stretch had been drilled till early in the evening with the operation continuing. Earlier in the day, Union minister of State for Road Transport and Highways VK Singh also visited the site of the mishap to check on the rescue efforts.

According to officials, the authorities have also contacted experts in Norway and Thailand for specific suggestions regarding the rescue operation in Uttarkashi. The foreign experts were involved in rescuing members of a junior football team from a cave system in Thailand during 2018. Meanwhile, the Union minister of State for Road Transport and Highways, VK Singh also visited the tunnel on Thursday to take stock of the situation. Stating that the authorities are doing their best, he expressed hope that all the stranded workers will soon be rescued safely. The Union minister who also talked to some of the stranded workers, said that efforts are being taken to expedite the rescue operation. A stretch about 40 metres long has been filled with debris. After attempts to prepare an escape tunnel through this stretch failed earlier, three IAF C1-30 aircrafts transported a heavier and more powerful drilling machine to Uttarkashi. This machine was assembled and made operational inside the tunnel. Officials stated that a nine metre stretch had been covered from 10:30 AM to 4:30 PM. At least six metre pipe pushing had been completed and welding for the second pipe was in progress in the evening.

Officials of the executing agency NHIDCL informed that all the workers stranded in the tunnel have adequate food, oxygen and drinking water along with electricity supply. All the stranded workers are reported to be in a stable condition. The officials are hoping to rescue the stranded workers at the earliest but the actual time it will take to complete the rescue operation will depend on how the drilling operation goes.

The 4,531 metre long Silkyara tunnel under construction under the Radi Pass area is to join the Gangotri and Yamunotri axis at a cost of Rs 853.79 crore under the ambitious Char Dham project. Officials state that once complete, the tunnel will considerably benefit the pilgrims providing an all-weather connectivity and shorten the distance by 26 kilometres and one hour of travel time through steep, mountainous and narrow roads prone to accidents and landslides.  The 40 workers have been stranded since a portion of the tunnel collapsed on November 12.

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