Uttarkashi tunnel collapse | BRO building road to top of hill to start vertical drilling

Nitin Gadkari, CM Dhami take stock of rescue operations; Govt supplies multivitamins, antidepressants, dry fruits to 41 trapped workers

November 19, 2023 02:46 pm | Updated 04:55 pm IST - Uttarkashi (Uttarakhand)

Prayers offered at a small shrine next to the tunnel after a portion of under construction tunnel has collapsed in the district of Uttarkashi, on November 19, 2023.

Prayers offered at a small shrine next to the tunnel after a portion of under construction tunnel has collapsed in the district of Uttarkashi, on November 19, 2023. | Photo Credit: Shashi Shekhar Kashyap

Efforts were underway on Nov. 19 to build an access road at the top of the hill above Silkyara tunnel for initiating vertical drilling to reach 41 workers trapped for seven days, with authorities hopeful that a platform to drill the hole might be ready by this afternoon.

Larger diameter pipes have also been inserted up to a length of 42 metres through the debris this morning to provide enough food and other essentials to the trapped workers, a control room set up at the site said.

Work on building the road began towards Nov. 18 evening with personnel of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) on the job, an official at the spot said.

Senior officials, including those from the PMO who visited the site on Nov. 18, are still stationed in Silkyara to oversee the operations aimed at the safe evacuation of the trapped workers at the earliest.

A five-plan strategy on which work will begin simultaneously has been devised to rescue the labourers after the earlier strategies did not produce the desired results. The five plans include drilling from one end to the other on both Silkyara and Barkot sides, vertical drilling from top of the tunnel and perpendicular drilling, former Advisor to PM and now OSD in Uttarakhand Government Bhaskar Khulbe told reporters in Silkyara on Nov. 18. Mr. Khulbe said the concerted efforts could lead to good results in four-five days or even earlier.

Rescue and relief operations underway after an under construction tunnel collapsed on Nov. 12 in the district of Uttarkashi, on November 19, 2023.

Rescue and relief operations underway after an under construction tunnel collapsed on Nov. 12 in the district of Uttarkashi, on November 19, 2023. | Photo Credit: Shashi Shekhar Kashyap

The Silkyara tunnel, about 30 km from the district headquarters of Uttarkashi and a seven-hour drive from the Uttarakhand capital Dehradun, is part of the ambitious Char Dham all-weather road project of the Central Government The labourers have been trapped since Nov. 12 morning at the partially collapsed Silkyara tunnel where rescue operations are on hold since Nov. 17.

Different agencies have been assigned the task of working on one alternative option each. The BRO and the construction wing of the Indian Army have also been assisting in the rescue operation, an official said.

National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd. (NHIDCL) M.D. Mahmood Ahmed has been made in-charge for coordination with all the Central agencies and has been stationed at Silkyara, the sources said.

The Uttarakhand Government has made Neeraj Khairwal, a secretary-level officer, as the nodal officer for coordination.

The sources said all the agencies concerned have posted senior officers at the site and the government has given a clear direction that whatever is possible be done for the rescue operation.

Nitin Gadkari, CM Dhami take stock of rescue ops

Union Minister Nitin Gadkari and Uttarakhand CM Pushkar Singh Dhami speak during a press conference after taking stock of the rescue operations, in Uttarkashi on November 19, 2023.

Union Minister Nitin Gadkari and Uttarakhand CM Pushkar Singh Dhami speak during a press conference after taking stock of the rescue operations, in Uttarkashi on November 19, 2023. | Photo Credit: Shashi Shekhar Kashyap

Meanwhile, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari and Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami reached the scene to review the ongoing rescue and relief operation.

They were accompanied by Uttarakhand Chief Secretary S.S. Sandhu at Silkyara.

Speaking to ANI about the ongoing relief and rescue operations, CM Dhami said, “We are working on all the possibilities available. All types of expert teams are working here...” He said that the State Government is ready to provide all the help required to the agencies involved in the rescue operation.”Saving everyone’s life is our first priority... For this, the State Government is ready to give all the help required to all the agencies... I will pray to God that they get rescued sooner, as their trouble is increasing with each passing day...,” CM Dhami said.

On Saturday, Deputy Secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office, Mangesh Ghildiyal, also visited the incident site to take stock of the situation. A former advisor to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) also took stock of the relief operations at the under-construction Silkyara Tunnel located at the Uttarkashi-Yamnotri road.

Workers stand atop a mountain face, below which an under construction tunnel has collapsed, in the district of Uttarkashi on November 19, 2023.

Workers stand atop a mountain face, below which an under construction tunnel has collapsed, in the district of Uttarkashi on November 19, 2023. | Photo Credit: Shashi Shekhar Kashyap

The local administration informed on Saturday that it would deploy a tree-cutting expert as part of the ongoing efforts to extricate 40 workers trapped inside the tunnel for seven days now. A tree-cutting expert, Ashiq Hussain, was called by the Forest Department to the tunnel site, officials said on Nov. 18. Officials added that they were trying to reach the workers through vertical drilling from the upper part of the tunnel.”We were trying to reach them horizontally, now we will also try vertically. A spot right above the tunnel has been identified and marked. A hole will be drilled from there to reach there. The depth of the hole would be approximately 300-350 feet... The horizontal attempt of rescue would also begin from Barkot end of the tunnel,” said Uttarkashi DFO DP Baluni.

Also, on Nov. 18, Chris Cooper, a micro-tunnelling expert, arrived at the Silkyara tunnel incident site to monitor and oversee the rescue operation.

Govt supplies multivitamins, antidepressants, dry fruits to workers trapped

The government is sending multivitamins, antidepressants and dry fruits to 41 workers trapped for the past seven days in an under-construction tunnel that collapsed in the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, Road, Transport and Highways Secretary Anurag Jain said.

“Fortunately, there is light inside because the electricity is on. There is a pipeline, and thus water is available. There is a 4-inch pipe, which was used for compression. Through that, we are sending food from day 1,” he said.

Jain, in a video brief update on the Uttarkashi tunnel collapse rescue operation, further said there is water and electricity in two km portion inside the tunnel, which is the finished part of the 4.531-kilometre two lane bi-directional tunnel at Silkyara in Uttarkashi.

“We are sending multivitamins, antidepressants and dry fruits to workers who have been trapped inside the under-construction tunnel at Silkyara in Uttarkashi,” he said.

A high-performance drilling machine that was airlifted from Indore in Madhya Pradesh being brought for rescue operation after a portion of an under-construction tunnel between Silkyara and Dandalgaon on the Brahmakhal-Yamunotri national highway collapsed, trapping several workers inside, in Uttarkashi district.

A high-performance drilling machine that was airlifted from Indore in Madhya Pradesh being brought for rescue operation after a portion of an under-construction tunnel between Silkyara and Dandalgaon on the Brahmakhal-Yamunotri national highway collapsed, trapping several workers inside, in Uttarkashi district. | Photo Credit: PTI

The Silkyara tunnel, about 30 km from the district headquarters of Uttarkashi and a seven-hour drive from the Uttarakhand capital Dehradun, is part of the ambitious Char Dham all-weather road project of the central government.

The tunnel is being constructed under the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL).

The tunnel collapsed around 5.30 am last Sunday. The rescue operation was suspended on Friday afternoon when a US-made auger machine deployed to drill and push in pipes through the rubble to prepare an escape passage for the workers developed a snag that exacerbated the anxiety.

By the time drilling was halted, the auger machine had drilled up to 24 metres through the rubble, spread over a 60-metre area inside the tunnel.

The Union government also held a high-level meeting on Saturday where five options to rescue the workers were discussed with different agencies assigned with specific alternatives to work on.

NHIDCL MD Mahmood Ahmed has been made in charge of coordination with all the central agencies and has been stationed in Silkyara. ONGC, RVNL, Satluj Jal Vikas Nigam Ltd, BRO and state PWD, besides NHIDCL, will be the agencies carrying out different responsibilities to establish early access to the trapped workers.

Rescue operations stalled around 2.45 pm on Friday. During the positioning of a fifth pipe, a big cracking sound was heard in the tunnel, after which rescue operation was suspended immediately, a statement from NHIDCL -- tasked with the construction of the tunnel -- said on Friday night.

The sound created panic among the rescue team. An expert involved with the project warned about the possibility of further collapse in the vicinity. Subsequently, the pipe-pushing activity was stopped.

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