Uttarakhand Tunnel Collapse: Camera Relays First Visuals of Trapped Workers

The six-inch pipe through which a medical camera reached the 41 trapped workers was reportedly also prepared yesterday to get them their first hot meal since the collapse on November 12.

New Delhi: An endoscopic camera relayed the first visuals of the 41 workers trapped in an under-construction tunnel in Uttarakhand on Tuesday (November 21) morning.

Footage of the workers provided by Uttarakhand’s information department shows them gathered in front of the camera and responding to instructions given by rescue personnel through a loudspeaker.

“If everyone is fine, show yourselves in front of the camera. Raise your hand and smile, we will reach you soon. Don’t worry,” a rescuer is heard saying in Hindi in the video.

Another rescuer was heard counting and trying to identify workers visible on camera.

One worker was also seen holding a walkie-talkie.

The endoscopic camera reached the workers through a six-inch wide pipe, media reports said.

A press release by the Union roads ministry said that the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) drilled the pipe through debris separating the workers from one of the tunnel’s entrances on Monday.

On the same day, the pipe was being prepared to give the workers their first hot meal – khichdi packed in bottles – since they were trapped there nine days ago on November 12, news agency ANI reported.

They were receiving dry food and medicines through a four-inch wide pipe until then.

The tunnel is intended to run between Uttarakhand’s Barkot and Silkyara towns.

Part of it reportedly collapsed on November 12 due to a nearby landslide, and the resulting debris trapped the workers close to the tunnel’s Silkyara end.

Roughly 50 to 60 workers had been on the overnight shift at the time of the collapse; those closest to the tunnel’s exit were able to make it out in time while the others could not.

Rescuers initially used an auger machine to horizontally drill through the debris from the Silkyara end, but had to halt operations on Friday (November 17) after the NHIDCL reported a loud cracking noise during the drilling.

Reuters reported the NHIDCL’s statement as saying that the auger machine was also experiencing difficulties and that its bearings were suffering damage.

The roads ministry said on Monday that the horizontal drilling was set to resume that evening, but as of Tuesday afternoon it is unclear if this has happened.

Soon after drilling work was suspended, authorities devised a five-pronged plan to rescue the workers, which involves drilling vertically from the top of the hill the tunnel goes through, as well as ‘micro-drilling’ through the tunnel’s left side.

Horizontal drilling from the tunnel’s Barkot end has also commenced, the roads ministry said on Monday.

Advisory to TV channels

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued an advisory to TV channels that are covering the rescue mission, saying that the telecast of video footage and other pictures by placing cameras and other equipment in close proximity to the site “have the potential to adversely affect the ongoing

The ministry asked the channels to refrain from sensationalising the issue and broadcasting any live videos from close proximity of the tunnel site. It said the media should ensure that the activities of the various agencies are in no way disrupted or disturbed by the very presence of cameramen, reporters or equipment near or around the operations site.

“It is also advised to be cautious and sensitive while reporting on the matter especially in putting out headlines, videos & images and take due care of the sensitive nature of operation, psychological status of the family members and as well as the viewers in general,” the advisory said.

Foreign experts drafted

Foreign experts have been drafted in for the rescue operation, including independent disaster investigator Arnold Dix, who is president of the International Tunneling and Underground Space Association.

When asked about a 900-millimetre wide pipe that rescuers plan to use to retrieve the trapped workers, Dix told ANI that it was “by far the best and fastest means to get the men”.

He continued: “But it has its technical difficulties, and that’s why we’re doing multiple rescue missions – we’ve got missions from the top, missions from the front, [a] mission from the side.”

According to ANI, rescue work was delayed on Tuesday when a piling machine being transported to the tunnel became stuck due to the road it was travelling on being too narrow.

The Times of India reported one of the trapped workers as telling a government official that “we are getting food, but all of us are in bad condition … it is getting harder and harder with each passing day.”

The BBC said that at least three of the workers reported having dysentery and authorities were providing them with medicines.

The workers were working on part of a new national highway, the Char Dham all-weather road, a flagship federal project by the Union government that aims to reduce travel times between four ancient Hindu pilgrimage sites in Uttarakhand state.

It would also improve access to strategic areas of the country near the border with regional rival China.

With inputs from DW.