40 trapped in tunnel for 100 Hours: patience running thin in Uttarkashi

How is it that India can successfully launch a ‘Moon Mission’ but cannot remove debris and rescue workers trapped in a tunnel, barely 245 metres from the mouth?

American drilling machine are deployed for the fifth day in Uttarkashi tunnel collapse.  (photo: DW)
American drilling machine are deployed for the fifth day in Uttarkashi tunnel collapse. (photo: DW)

NH Digital

Rescue efforts continued on the fifth day with an American drilling machine drilling a ‘tunnel within the tunnel’ to rescue the 40 workers and engineers trapped since 5 am on 12 November. Officials meanwhile are having a tough time reassuring workers and relatives and family members of the trapped workers whose patience is running out after repeated failure of rescue efforts. Not enough is being done, they believe, complaining of the endless wait for one machine or the other.

An SOS has gone out to international experts, to Thailand and Norway in particular, for ‘online advice’, say officials. The Indian Air Force having airlifted a massive ‘American’ drilling machine on Wednesday in two parts, which were then joined on the ground and taken by road to the accident site, efforts to drill a new tunnel horizontally began on Thursday.

Here is all that you need to know:

1. The tunnel is part of the project to reduce the length by 26 kilometres between Uttarkashi and Yamunotri.

2. A part of the tunnel collapsed early on Sunday morning, trapping 40 workers and junior engineers approximately 245 metres from the mouth.

The 40 men who are there come from 8 states in country: Jharkhand (15) UP (8) Odisha (5) Bihar (4) West Bengal (3) Assam (2) Uttarakhand (2) Himachal (1)

3. Experts say that tunnels either use the ‘Drill and Blast’ method or the ‘Tunnel Boring Machines’ (TBM) which cost a whopping Rs 200 crore and are imported but are safer.

4. The shallow tunnels for the Delhi Metro were drilled with TBMs.

5. TBMs however cannot be used for tunnelling through shorter mountains, say, less than 500 metres in height. The DBM method of blasting the rocks by drilling a hole is commonly used in the Himalayan foothills.

6. The accident, they say, could have occurred either because a patch of loose rocks went unnoticed while drilling the tunnel or because seepage of water weakened the rocks after the initial portion of the tunnel was completed.

7. There are machines like ‘Stress Meters’ and ‘Deformations Meters’ that geologists use to test the strength of the rocks. Samples are also sent for examination before the start of a project.

8. The ‘Char Dhaam’ project aggressively promoted by the government, which involved widening of roads, tunnelling and use of massive and heavy machinery, experts had warned, required more careful planning and execution to avoid disasters.

9. Geologically, Himalaya is a young mountain range and still undergoing changes. Former chief minister of the state, Trivendra Singh Rawat, had also warned officials against construction of tunnels.

10. The worst apprehension of experts seem to be coming true as not enough time and research are going before commencement of construction. Experts also believe that it is important to ensure that ‘independent’ experts are brought in to examine project and design reports. India, however, does not allow international experts and geologists to examine projects in the Himalayas on grounds of national security. It is a paradox that the same experts’ help are however sought after accidents.

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