Uttarkashi tunnel collapse | 40 trapped workers safe; rescue efforts on

Oxygen and food being supplied to the workers; Multiagency rescue operation involving NDRF, SDRF, ITBP and police under way; labourers likely to be rescued by November 15

November 13, 2023 01:40 pm | Updated November 14, 2023 07:30 am IST - Uttarkashi (Uttarakhand)

Members of the Uttarakhand State Disaster Response Force during an operation to escue 40 workers trapped inside a collapsed road tunnel in Uttarkashi district.

Members of the Uttarakhand State Disaster Response Force during an operation to escue 40 workers trapped inside a collapsed road tunnel in Uttarkashi district. | Photo Credit: ANI

Rescue teams are racing against time to save the 40 labourers trapped after a portion of an under-construction tunnel collapsed in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand early on Sunday.

The tunnel, being built by National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) in Silkyara, is part of the Char Dham all-weather road project, which aims to reduce the journey between Uttarkashi and Yamunotri town by 26 km.

Officials of the National and State Disaster Response Forces have established contact with the trapped labourers. The labourers, who sought food, told the officials they were safe and had adequate water inside for a few days. Oxygen is being pumped into the collapsed area through a pipe.

According to the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), the incident took place at 5.30 a.m. on Sunday. The rescue teams were immediately rushed to the spot. They drilled a pipe through the debris through which they sent a walkie-talkie to the trapped workers.

Rescue and relief operations underway after a portion of a tunnel under construction between Silkyara and Dandalgaon on the Brahmakhal-Yamunotri national highway collapsed, in Uttarkashi district, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023.

Rescue and relief operations underway after a portion of a tunnel under construction between Silkyara and Dandalgaon on the Brahmakhal-Yamunotri national highway collapsed, in Uttarkashi district, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI

Superintendent of Police (SP) Arpan Yaduvanshi said communication was established with the trapped workers within hours of the incident. “Initially they panicked, but we managed to pacify them by explaining our rescue operations. They said there is no shortage of oxygen as no one is complaining about breathing issues. We are sending raw food materials like grams etc,” he added.

“There are 75 police personnel involved in the rescue operations along with 25 fire services personnel, one platoon of PAC (Provincial Armed Constabulary), 25 people from the SDRF, 35 from the NDRF and 25 from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. Our teams are running against time in the chilly weather conditions to ensure that every worker trapped inside the tunnel is evacuated safe,” Mr. Yaduvanshi said.

NHIDCL officials said that as per their duty roster, of the 40 workers, 15 are from Jharkhand, eight from Uttar Pradesh, five from Odisha, four from Bihar, three from West Bengal, one from Himachal Pradesh and two each from Uttarakhand and Assam.

Speaking about the rescue operations, the technical team of NHIDCL said debris was being removed at a fast pace. “We are removing the loose earth continuously along with shotcreting [spraying concrete or mortar with either a dry or wet mix process) to push through a 900 mm diameter steel pipe to evacuate the workforce through it. An expert team from the Irrigation Department is reaching the project site for assistance,” the NHIDCL said.

Till Monday night, 21 metres of collapsed area was cleared, but minor incidents of fall of debris posed hindrance in the work.

The 4,531-metre-long tunnel is being constructed in partnership with Navayuga Engineering Company Ltd at a cost of ₹853.79 crore. The State government said the tunnel was being constructed for the benefit the Char Dham pilgrims as it would save their travelling time by around one hour, avoiding steep, mountain and narrow roads prone to accident and landslides. The existing road, if widened, would have completely destroyed the rich flora and fauna of the Radi top mountains with thick cover of Rhododendron vegetation.

Speaking to the media, Ranjeet Kumar Sinha, State Disaster Management Secretary, said the accident happened as the area had soft rock that collapsed due to pressure. “We will see what can be done about the rock nature but currently our primary task is to rescue people safely, which is expected by Wednesday morning,” said Mr. Sinha. He said an alarm system will be activated at all such construction sites to avert such incidents in future.

Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami visited the site on Monday to take the stock of the situation. The CM directed the officials to speed up the rescue work.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi took detailed information about the rescue and relief work through phone and has assured us all possible help in the matter,” Mr. Dhami added.

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