India's National Disaster Management Authority said Monday it was going back to the drawing board in its effort to rescue 41 construction workers who have been trapped in a collapsed road tunnel for 15 days after all previous efforts failed. Photo by Harish Tyagi/EPA-EFE
Nov. 27 (UPI) -- Rescuers trying to reach a construction crew trapped in a collapsed highway tunnel in India began their third week Monday by changing tactics.
A panic ensued over the weekend after cracking noises were heard above the 41 men during vertical drilling into the disaster site in the northern state of Uttarakhand.
The operation was derailed Friday after a drilling machine brought in to penetrate debris that has imprisoned the men 110 yards inside the tunnel since it collapsed Nov. 12 broke after getting snarled on metal mixed in with the rocks and earth.
The rescue effort has been plagued by repeated setbacks caused by falling rocks, loose soil and metal used in the construction project, damaging drilling machines and making it too dangerous send in crews.
Vertical drilling down from the mountainside using a specialist machine flown in from the United States resumed Sunday, nine days after the operation was halted after the trapped workers heard cracking noises above them, creating a "panic situation" over fears the ceiling could collapse in on them.
National Disaster Management Authority officials laid out the scale of the task as they confirmed drilling had begun on Sunday afternoon, saying they had only progressed about one-sixth of the way.
"Two hundred and eight-two feet of digging is required to reach the trapped workers and make an escape passage. Fifteen meters have already been drilled," officials told reporters.
Rescuers are simultaneously working to get the original, horizontal, route through the tunnel blockage back in operation, pending the repair of the busted drilling machine, and are considering other techniques in the meantime, including digging by hand.
While rescuers have established voice and visual communication with the trapped men and have been funneling oxygen and food to the workers via a six-inch pipe they managed to insert, some have fallen ill.
The 1.9-mile-long Silkyara-Barkot tunnel project is being constructed to improve year-round highway infrastructure serving popular Hindu pilgrimage sites in the Himalayan region. It was approved in 2018 by the BJP government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at at cost of $184 million.