The workers' prolonged confinement within the tunnel is raising serious concerns about their health.
A rain forecast and temperatures dropping to 4 degrees Celsius pose additional hurdles in the ongoing rescue operations to free 41 construction workers trapped under a collapsed tunnel in Uttarakhand's Uttarkashi. The weather office has predicted snowfall in areas above 4,000 metres in Uttarakhand, adding to the challenges faced by the rescue teams.
The workers remain trapped in a 4.5-kilometre (3-mile) tunnel since its collapse on November 12. Rescue efforts are now facing additional challenges as adverse weather conditions loom, with thunderstorms, hail, and lower temperatures also expected in the mountainous region. However, rescue officials insist they are equipped to handle any situation.
"They are trained in working in every situation so that's not a worry for us," Mahmood Ahmed, managing director of the NHIDCL company, told news agency Reuters.
READ | In Uttarkashi Tunnel Op, Manual Drilling Today As Broken Drill Removed
Trapped in the tunnel for over 360 hours and nearly 16 days, the 41 workers may face an extended wait for their rescue, possibly stretching by days or even weeks, before their rescue.
The workers' prolonged confinement within the tunnel is raising serious concerns about their health and well-being. Doctors have emphasised the need for comprehensive rehabilitation for the trapped workers, fearing that the prolonged confinement may necessitate both mental and physical recovery processes.
Mr Ahmed said the vertical drilling process, which commenced yesterday, will be successfully concluded by Thursday, provided no unforeseen obstacles arise.
READ | Uttarkashi Tunnel Rescue: Manual Digging Specialist Details Op To Remove Debris
Blades of the damaged auger drill have been extracted from the tunnel. The auger drill, a corkscrew-shaped device with a rotating blade at the tip, became stuck in the debris. This forced officials to abandon the 25-tonne machine, which had been making progress in the excavation process. Manual drilling will now commence to pave the way for an escape route, offering a glimmer of hope to the 41 stranded workers.
Micro tunneling expert Chris Cooper said today that the debris from the auger machine has been cleared and manual drilling will begin in a few hours.
"All the debris (of the Auger machine) removed. (Manual drilling) will probably start after 3 hours," Chris Cooper told ANI.
"We have 9 meters of hand tunnelling to do. It really depends on how the ground behaves. Could be quickly, could be a bit longer. If we hit some lattice girder. Then we've got to cut out the lattice girder, but we're confident we can get through. The Army is just supervising (the operation). 30 metres of (vertical drilling) has been done," he added.
The last 10-15 metres will now have to be broken with hand-held power tools, a significantly more time-consuming process. Workers are entering the unfinished escape passage, equipped with a steel chute, to dismantle the jammed auger blades and shaft.