Uttarakhand tunnel collapse: Foreign expert joins rescue mission, DRDO sends robots to site

Independent disaster investigator Arnold Dix (C), President of the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association and rescue workers conduct a survey at the Silkyara under construction road tunnel. Photo: AFP

Uttarkashi: The mission to rescue the 41 workers trapped inside the collapsed Silkyara tunnel here entered into advanced stage as more machinery including robots were taken to the site on Monday. An international tunnelling expert, Arnold Dix, arrived at the disaster site to review the rescue efforts, now in its ninth day. Dix heads the Geneva-based International Tunneling and Underground Space Association.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday spoke with Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami to take stock of the rescue operation. Necessary rescue equipment and resources are being provided by the Centre, and through mutual coordination between central and state agencies, the trapped workers will be safely evacuated, PM Modi said, according to a statement issued by the Uttarakhand Chief Minister's Office.
It is necessary to keep up the morale of the trapped workers, the prime minister said.

It was for the third time that PM Modi spoke to CM Dhami about the rescue operations being carried out at the tunnel. CM Dhami briefed PM Modi about the rescue operations in detail and said all the trapped workers are safe with oxygen, nutritious food and water being constantly supplied to them.

All agencies are working in full coordination with each other in consultation with experts to carry out the rescue operations, he said, adding that he had inspected the site and was constantly monitoring the rescue operation.

A high-performance drilling machine being brought for rescue operation. Photo: PTI

National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation director Anshu Manish Khalkho told reporters that more machines would reach the site soon to ease the operations.

"DRDO has sent 2 robots weighing 20 kg and 50 kg respectively. The robots move on the ground and the land is working like sand, we are apprehending whether or not would the robots be able to move there. All machinery is coming, they are mobilised and will be here within a day or two. BRO is constructing roads wherever necessary on this end and the Barkot end. Roads are ready on both sides, now we are waiting for the machinery. The machines are very heavy, they cannot be airlifted," he said.

Dix expressed hope that the trapped workers would be evacuated safely. He also expressed satisfaction at the rescue efforts done so far, saying an "enormous amount of work" has been done.

"We are doing a lot of work at the moment to make sure what we do is safe and the people doing the evacuation are safe. I have just been down in the tunnel, an enormous amount of work has been done there in preparation, and we are just coming up here at the top of the mountain to consider other options as well," Dix said.

"I only arrived yesterday but the work I have seen even between yesterday and today is extraordinary... Plan for today is working out the best thing to do to get the men out," he said.

Dix did not spell out a timeline as to how long the rescue operation would last.

"We are trying to make sure all men are safe, they get out alive, and the rescuers are safe. As for how long it takes, everyone here agrees we want the men out safe and the rescue safe as long as it takes," he said.

Medical teams are also stationed at the site and a team from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) is also keeping an eye on the operations after visiting the tunnel for an on-the-spot review, the state government's statement added.

Rescue operations are being carried out since portions of the tunnel which is part of the Char Dham all-weather road collapsed following a landslide on November 12, leaving 41 workers trapped behind a huge mound of debris.

Security personnel and others at the under-construction tunnel between Silkyara and Dandalgaon on the Brahmakhal-Yamunotri national highway, days after a portion of the tunnel collapsed trapping several workers inside, in Uttarkashi district. Photo: PTI

The Uttarakhand government will bear the travel, food and lodging expenses of relatives of the 41 workers trapped at the Silkyara tunnel in the Uttarkashi district, CM Dhami said on Monday.

Assuring the families of the trapped workers that they will be rescued soon, the chief minister said officials have been asked to stay in touch with the relatives of the trapped workers so that they do not face any inconvenience. Psychiatrists have also been roped in to maintain the morale of the trapped workers, he said.

The Silkyara tunnel is about 30 km away from the district headquarters of Uttarkashi and a seven-hour drive from Dehradun.

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