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Rescue efforts to save India road workers from tunnel hits snag

Police officers stand guard near the site of a tunnel collapse on the Brahmakhal Yamunotri National Highway in Uttarkashi, India, on Wednesday. Rescue and relief operations resumed Thursday afternoon after being delayed when drilling machines used to reach 40 trapped workers became entangled in a hidden steel mesh. Photo by Abhyudaya Kotnala/EPA-EFE
Police officers stand guard near the site of a tunnel collapse on the Brahmakhal Yamunotri National Highway in Uttarkashi, India, on Wednesday. Rescue and relief operations resumed Thursday afternoon after being delayed when drilling machines used to reach 40 trapped workers became entangled in a hidden steel mesh. Photo by Abhyudaya Kotnala/EPA-EFE

Nov. 23 (UPI) -- Ongoing efforts in India to free more than 40 workers trapped in a freeway tunnel for nearly two weeks hit a snag on Thursday when drilling blades were damaged and had to be replaced.

Officials said emergency crews, sensitive to causing a landslide during their drilling in Uttarakhand, stopped just feet short of breaking through where the workers are trapped. They said a metal object caught among the rocks in the collapsed, under-construction tunnel damaged the drilling blades being used to cut a path for workers.

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Bhaskar Khulbe, a former advisor to the Indian prime minister's office, told reporters an iron mesh had become entangled with the drilling machine. It was eventually removed and drilling resumed on Thursday morning, but the incident had delayed the rescue operation by 12 to 14 hours.

The workers have been trapped in the tunnel, part of a new freeway tunnel in the Himalayas, since Nov. 12. While authorities have been able to get oxygen and food to the workers, some have complained about becoming ill.

Authorities were close enough Thursday to the workers that they had called in ambulances to the scene where the workers would be treated as they emerged from the tunnels.

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"We have made all the arrangements for ambulances," Inspector-General of Garhwal Range Police K.S. Nagnyal told ANI News. "We'll take them (trapped workers) from the site to the hospital through the green corridor. As per the doctor's advice, we can also airlift people if those who are trapped are in serious condition... If they need better medical assistance, they'll be taken to AIIMS, Rishikesh. The entire state is on its toes."

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