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Uttarkashi tunnel rescue: Machine failures plague tunnel rescue

Updated on: 26 November,2023 05:30 AM IST  |  Uttarkashi
Agencies |

Desperate, officials consider manual digging and vertical drilling, Dix says workers will be back home by Xmas

Uttarkashi tunnel rescue: Machine failures plague tunnel rescue

Rescue personnel work at the mouth of the collapsed under-construction Silkyara tunnel in the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand on Saturday. Pic/PTI

The blades of the auger machine drilling through the rubble of the collapsed Silkyara tunnel were on Saturday stuck in the debris, forcing officials to consider switching to options that could drag on the rescue of 41 trapped workers by several days, even weeks.

On day 14 of the multi-agency rescue mission, officials shifted focus to two alternatives— manual drilling through the remaining 10 to 12 metre stretch of the rubble or, more likely, drilling down 86 metres from above. “This operation could take a long time,” National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) member Lt Gen (retd) Syed Ata Hasnain said at his media briefing.

At the disaster site, international tunnelling expert Arnold Dix repeated his promise of getting the workers out “by Christmas”, which is a month away. Manual drilling would involve individual workers entering the already bored 47-metre stretch of the rescue passage, drilling for a brief period in the confined space and then coming out to let someone else take over.

This, according to Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami, could begin as soon as the equipment stuck in the planned escape passage is brought out.
Heavy vertical drilling equipment, already brought to Silkyara, was on Saturday moved up a one-and-a half-kilometre hill road constructed in a couple of days by the Border Road Organisation.

The vertical drilling would begin in the “next 24 to 36” hours, Hasnain said. He indicated that this was quicker of the two main options now being considered. Drilling through the Silkyara rubble was at standstill for almost the entire day Friday. But the extent of the problem was known Saturday when international expert Dix told reporters that the auger machine was “busted”.

Also read: Drilling at Silkyara tunnel halted, operation to evacuate workers hit again

“The drilling, augering has stopped. It’s too much for the auger, it’s not going to do anything more,” he said. “The mountain has again resisted the auger, so we are rethinking our approach. I am confident that the 41 men are coming home,” he said, insisting that they remained safe. When pressed to spell out a timeline, Dix said, “I have always promised that they will be home by Christmas.” The 25-tonne drilling machine, now out of commission, includes an auger a giant corkscrew-like device with a cutter at its end.

Villagers offer prayer to pacify local deity

With repeated obstructions impeding the Silkyara tunnel rescue operation, residents of nearby villages are praying to the local deity, Baba Boukhnag, for the early release of the 41 workers trapped inside. Many local residents said they offer prayers daily for the wellbeing and safe rescue of the workers. Rajesh Rawat, a resident of Bhramkhaal village, about 10 km from the tunnel, said he and his family members are praying to Baba Boukhnag daily.

Locals worship deity ‘Boukhnag’ as they believe that the removal of the temple to make way for the infra project has angered the god. Pic/PTI
Locals worship deity ‘Boukhnag’ as they believe that the removal of the temple to make way for the infra project has angered the god. Pic/PTI

Rawat, who owns a homestay in his village, said the local residents have huge faith in Baba Bhoukhnag and the workers will come out soon with his blessings.

According to local residents, Boukhnag deity is considered the protector of the area. Rajender Singh, who runs a roadside eatery at Silkyara village, said that apart from offering prayers for the wellbeing of the trapped workers, everyone in his village tries to help the rescue personnel working at the site day and night.

After initial efforts to rescue the trapped workers failed, temple priest Ganesh Prasad Bijalwan had earlier said, company officials called him and requested him to perform a special puja.

The priest had then said, “Uttarakhand is the land of gods. There is a tradition of building a small temple for the local deity before building any bridge, road or tunnel. The work is completed only after taking their blessings.” Local residents said there will be a ‘mela’ near the tunnel on Sunday. 

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