Another Hurdle Halts Rescue Work At Silkyara Tunnel In Uttarkashi

This is the third time that the drilling exercise has been halted since the multi-agency rescue mission began on November 12 after a stretch of the under-construction tunnel in Uttarakhand’s Char Dham route collapsed.

According to one official the drilling was stopped Thursday to “stabilise” the platform on which the 25-tonne drilling machine is mounted. Some cracks apparently appeared in the structure, but there was no official confirmation.

In the afternoon, a government press statement in Delhi said minor vibrations were noticed at 1.10 pm and the auger was being pushed slightly back to “reassess the force to be applied”. It said the operation will then restart.

Before the setback, officials were looking at the possibility of the operation ending during Thursday night – provided no more obstacles emerged during the drilling as it entered the last stretch of 10 to 12 metres.

“I expect that in the next few hours or by tomorrow, we will be successful in this operation,” National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) member Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain said in Delhi, even as he warned that there could be more hurdles that could delay it.

Former advisor with the Prime Minister’s Office Bhaskar Khulbe, who was at the site, said an iron obstruction that came in the path of the drill on Wednesday night had been removed.

At 10 a.m., he told reporters it would take 12 to 14 hours of drilling and about three hours on top of that for the National Disaster Response Force to evacuate the workers.

State government’s nodal officer Neel Neeraj Khairwal told reporters at around 2 pm that drilling had progressed by 1.8 metre after the setback Wednesday night at the 45-metre mark. Another official said the drill had covered 48 metres.

Section-by-section, a steel pipe was being pushed through the rubble as the auger machine drilled.

Once the chute emerges from the other end, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) men will enter it to help bring out the trapped workers one by one. The workers would lie on low, wheeled stretchers that will be pulled out of the horizontal chute using ropes.

The trapped workers are being sent food, medicines and other essentials through a new six-inch wide tube, which is also being used for communication.

Union Minister of State for Road Transport and Highways V K Singh and NDRF Director General Atul Karwal were at Silkyara Thursday to review the rescue effort.

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