That’s because the drilling machine used in the rescue hit a lattice steel girder arch that took six hours to remove, said Bhaskar Khulbe, a tunnel project official, to The Associated Press.
The machine is expected to be fixed by Friday, when the rescue attempt can continue to free the workers who have been trapped for nearly two weeks. On Nov. 12, a landslide caused a portion of the 4.5-kilometre tunnel they were building to collapse about 200 metres from the entrance.
As of Thursday evening, the drilling had made it through nearly 46 metres but still had 12 metres more to go to create a passageway, according to Kirti Panwar, a state government spokesperson at the accident site.
The rescue plan is to insert and weld together pipes that can be used as a route out of the tunnel.
Members of the National Disaster Response Force “will then crawl inside and bring out the workers one by one, most likely on stretchers which have been fitted with wheels,” Panwar said.
The drilling machine has faced problems before, forcing a stop to digging last week before resuming Wednesday.
Authorities have been supplying the trapped workers with hot meals of rice and lentils through a six-inch pipe since earlier this week after days of them surviving off dry food sent through a narrower pipe. Oxygen is being supplied to them through a separate pipe.
Uttarakhand is dotted with Hindu temples, and highway and building construction has been constant to accommodate the influx of pilgrims and tourists. The tunnel is part of the Chardham all-weather road, a flagship federal project connecting various Hindu pilgrimage sites.
About 200 disaster relief personnel have been at the site using drilling equipment and excavators in the rescue operation.
The rescuers will need to dig 103 meters (338 feet) to reach the trapped workers — nearly double than if they carried on digging from the front.
— with files from the Associated Press, Reuters and Global’s Uday Rana.
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