"The stakes are very high"
41 workers have been trapped in a Uttarakhand tunnel since November 12, 2023.
The men found themselves stranded due to a landslide in the vicinity that resulted in a cascade of debris, though fortunately, none of them are believed to be injured.
The extraction process is underway, with rescuers planning to bring each individual to safety through a 90cm diameter pipe that has been inserted through the rubble of the collapsed tunnel.
Situated in the Uttarkashi district, the Silkyara tunnel is an integral component of the national government’s expansive highway initiative.
This mountainous state is adorned with numerous Himalayan peaks and glaciers.
The encompassing terrain is characterised by rugged mountains, presenting challenges with sizable rocks and boulders even when navigating the perimeter on foot.
The ecological sensitivity of the region adds to its complexity, making it susceptible to earthquakes and landslides.
The rescue operation has faced challenges, particularly in dealing with metal rods that needed to be cut through.
The presence of loose soil and hard rock has further slowed down the efforts to extricate the workers.
On November 24, officials expressed optimism, stating that the workers would be freed within hours.
However, a setback occurred when a giant drill malfunctioned inside the tunnel, causing a delay in the operation.
Throughout the ordeal, authorities have been ensuring the trapped individuals receive essential supplies.
Oxygen, food, and water have been provided to the workers through a separate narrow pipe.
The Indian government had to call upon Australian underground expert, Arnold Dix, who is described as a “technical and scientific expert”.
Speaking to the BBC, he said the tunnel in Uttarakhand was the “toughest” he’s ever faced. He further expressed:
“I think this is the toughest [operation] not purely for technical reasons.
“This is tough because the stakes are very high.
“No one has been injured and we have to make sure every person inside comes out fine.
“The mountain has told us one thing, that is to be humble.”
“41 men home safe, and then you will be reporting the most extraordinary thing.”
As the workers are close to being rescued, precautions must be taken as delays have already added precious time to the mission.
It is believed that once the workers are able to be pulled out, the operation could last three to four hours.
It’s estimated that each worker will need three to five minutes to escape the tunnel individually and the National Disaster Response Force and paramedics will also go inside at the time of evacuation to provide support.
This has been a massive wake-up call for India and this expansive project, which has been met with backlash due to this exact situation.
Hemant Dhyani, an environmentalist, concluded:
“These mountains are not built for such massive building of infrastructure.”