A major rescue operation is currently underway in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand after a tunnel under construction in Uttarkashi district collapsed trapping dozens of workers inside. The tunnel is part of an important highway expansion project to improve connectivity in the remote Himalayan region.
According to officials from the National Highway & Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL), the company overseeing the tunnel construction, around 40 workers have been trapped inside the tunnel since the collapse on December 31st. The incident occurred near the town of Tirthan when a section of the tunnel ceiling collapsed bringing down debris and mud that blocked both ends of the tunnel.
Fortunately, contact has been established with the stranded workers through pipes and communication equipment lowered into the tunnel. Authorities say the trapped workers have access to food, water, oxygen and electricity. Small food packets are also being regularly pumped inside the tunnel to keep the workers nourished as the rescue efforts continue.
The Uttarakhand State Disaster Management Secretary Ranjeet Kumar Sinha said the tunnel collapsed due to the soft rock crumbling under pressure. He assured that treating the tunnel to prevent further collapses will be done after the immediate priority of rescuing the trapped workers safely is achieved.
According to the officials, enough oxygen supply is present inside the tunnel for the workers to survive for 5-6 days if needed. However, multiple agencies and technical experts have been mobilized for the urgent rescue mission with the aim of evacuating all the stranded workers within the next 48 hours.
The Superintendent of Police for Uttarkashi, Arpan Yaduvanshi provided an update that over 20 meters of the 60 meters of debris has been cleared so far. He expressed confidence that all 40 people will be evacuated from the tunnel by tomorrow night.
Yaduvanshi confirmed that rescue personnel are in constant contact with the trapped workers over walkie-talkies and providing them real-time updates about the rescue progress.
Family members of those impacted have also been kept informed about the situation and the efforts underway to rescue their loved ones. Authorities are also arranging temporary accommodation and assistance for the workers’ families who have arrived near the tunnel site.
Heavy machinery including bulldozers, excavators, drilling equipment and cranes have been deployed to clear the blockade and create access points into the collapsed tunnel. Personnel from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), the police and expert engineers are working round the clock to ensure a speedy evacuation.
The tunnel construction is part of the Char Dham road connectivity project to improve access to the important Hindu pilgrimage centers in Uttarakhand. Once completed, the two-tube tunnel will shorten the travel distance and time to the holy Yamunotri temple. However, the remote location and difficult Himalayan terrain poses challenges to the construction efforts.
Authorities have assured that the safety of workers and engineers involved in infrastructure projects in the mountainous region remains a top priority. Strict action will be taken against any lapses as the causes of the tunnel collapse are thoroughly investigated. But for now, all efforts remain focused on rescuing the 40 courageous workers trapped underground who have shown remarkable resilience while awaiting their safe evacuation.