LUCKNOW, India (AP) — Some of the 40 construction workers stuck in a collapsed road tunnel in northern India have been falling ill due to falling debris and technical issues that are hindering the rescue operation, officials said Wednesday.
Rescuers have been working on drilling wide pipes through the rubble to create a passage to free the workers who have been trapped since Sunday after a portion of the under-construction road collapsed in Uttarakhand state. However, the government-run national highway authority stated that the process was slower than expected. They mentioned that another high-power drilling machine was being brought in from New Delhi to expedite the operation.
The authority also assured that the workers have confirmed receiving food items and all of them are safe, according to the communication from them.
Meanwhile, relatives and friends of the trapped workers, who gathered outside the tunnel, expressed their growing frustration and anger.
Most of the workers are migrant laborers from different parts of India.
Magistrate Abhishek Ruhela mentioned that some workers had sent messages reporting fever, body aches, and worries. Medicine has been sent through the pipes that were initially set up to provide water and food to the workers.
“Essential food items such as chickpeas and almonds are also being sent through the same channels,” Ruhela added.
Approximately 200 disaster relief personnel have been utilizing drilling equipment and excavators in the rescue operation. The plan is to push steel pipes, 2.5-foot (0.76 meter) wide, through an opening in the excavated debris using hydraulic jacks to safely extract the stranded workers.
Falling debris also caused a delay in the drilling operations on Tuesday. Ranjit Sinha, a disaster management official, stated, “These are challenges in such rescue operations, but we will overcome them.”
Two of the rescuers sustained minor injuries due to falling debris.
The collapse on Sunday occurred about 200 meters (500 feet) from the tunnel entrance, as a result of a landslide. The area is prone to landslides and subsidence due to its hilly terrain.
Uttarakhand, a mountainous state known for its Hindu temples attracting pilgrims and tourists, has witnessed constant construction of highways and buildings to accommodate the influx of visitors. The tunnel is part of the busy Chardham all-weather road, a significant federal project connecting various Hindu pilgrimage sites.