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Officials: Rescue of trapped Indian workers could be delayed by weeks

Rescue workers toiled to reach 41 workers trapped in a collapsed tunnel on Saturday in Uttarkashi, India. Equipment trouble prompted authorities to warn it may be several more weeks before they are reached. Photo by Harish Tyagi/EPA-EFE
Rescue workers toiled to reach 41 workers trapped in a collapsed tunnel on Saturday in Uttarkashi, India. Equipment trouble prompted authorities to warn it may be several more weeks before they are reached. Photo by Harish Tyagi/EPA-EFE

Nov. 25 (UPI) -- Indian authorities warned Saturday the hoped-for rescue of 41 workers trapped in a tunnel collapse earlier this month could be delayed by several more weeks due to equipment problems.

They urged patience after an auger machine became stuck while trying to drill through debris in an effort to reach workers who have now been trapped for 13 days on the Brahmakal Yamunotri National Highway in Uttarkashi, India.

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"This operation could take a long time," National Disaster Management Authority member Syed Ata Hasnain told reporters in Delhi, while an international expert advising the government gave a timeline of "before Christmas" for a possible rescue.

Rescuers have been able to contact the workers and deliver food and water through a pipe that was drilled through the rubble, but previous attempts to extract the workers have been run into snags.

An earlier effort was frustrated by collapsing debris and a landslide.

"You can see that this operation is getting technically complex," Hasnain said at a press briefing, confirming that the auger is "broken, destructed.

"The mountain has once again resisted the auger, so we are rethinking our approach," he said, characterizing the situation as unpredictable, much like warfare.

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But, he assured, the 41 workers "are stable."

"Whatever methods we are using right now, we have to have some patience. We need to understand that a very difficult operation is going on," Hasnain said.

Rescuers will have to decide if they want workers to manually complete the previously dug shaft in shifts, or if they want to start a new tunnel shaft. A plasma drill will be airlifted to help dislodge the auger that has become stuck in the debris, the Press Trust of India reported.

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