Uttarkashi, Nov 28, 2023: A team of "rat-hole miners" began manual drilling operations yesterday to reach the 41 workers trapped within the debris of the collapsed Silkyara tunnel in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi as rescue ops entered Day 17.
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A team of 24 seasoned "rat-hole mining" experts are involved in the manual drilling process and excavate a narrow passageway toward the trapped workers. This time-consuming task will involve removing debris and creating a safe route for the rescue operation. The workers are just 5 metres away from the rescue team.
Manual drilling operations began at the tunnel yesterday. Initial drilling efforts were conducted using a large auger machine that got stuck in the rubble on Friday, prompting authorities to look for alternative methods - vertical drilling from above the tunnel. Approximately 40% of the required 86-metre vertical drilling has been completed.
The last bit of the stuck auger was removed by Monday evening allowing for the insertion of a steel pipe deeper into the partially constructed escape passage. The 25-tonne machine, once repaired, will push an 800-mm pipe forward as the manual drilling progresses.
Rescue officials played down concerns about the workers’ ability to navigate through the 800-millimeter diameter pipes, highlighting their prior experience working in 600-millimeter pipes. To ensure their safety, each worker will be equipped with a helmet, a uniform, a mask, and glasses.
National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) member Lt Gen (retd) Syed Ata Hasnain said the vertical drilling operation has already progressed to a depth of 36 metres.
A rain forecast and temperatures dropping to 4 degrees Celsius pose additional hurdles in the ongoing rescue operations to free 41 construction workers trapped under a collapsed tunnel in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi.
A landline connection has been established for the trapped workers who are stuck in a 2-km built-up area, through a pipe that helps them talk to people outside. Twice a day, from 9 am to 11 am and 5 pm to 8 pm, a team of doctors stationed at the tunnel site, talk to the workers.
"We have to complete this relief and rescue operation with a lot of alertness. Nature is continuously giving us challenges in this effort. But, we are standing firm. We are making efforts round-the-clock. We have to pray for the safe evacuation of those workers and to do it as early as possible," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said yesterday.
PM Modi’s Principal Secretary PK Mishra reached the tunnel yesterday to review rescue operations. He was accompanied by Chief Secretary Sukhbir Singh Sandhu. Mr Mishra assured the rescue teams of all possible support from the central government.
Located about 30 km from Uttarkashi and a seven-hour drive from Dehradun, the Silkyara tunnel is an integral part of the central government’s ambitious Char Dham all-weather road project.