Hopes dimmed of tracing a construction worker trapped for 10 days after an under-construction tunnel came crashing down in Himachal Pradesh’s Bilaspur district as authorities suspended rescue operations on Tuesday following large cracks inside the structure.
Rescuers dug through a hill for days and successfully evacuated two other workers on Monday through a narrow shaft built by using huge rigs to bore through the hill but the process left the fragile underground tunnel badly damaged.
The district administration suspended operations launched to trace the third labourer Hriday Ram after workers digging another hole inside the debris reported fresh cracks, triggering panic. Despite frantic efforts, authorities have failed to establish contact with him.
“We have consulted the geologists camping at tunnel and there is risk of portions of it collapsing. Hence, I ordered them to cordon off the area since we cannot afford to risk the lives of workers,” Bilaspur deputy commissioner Manasi Sahay Thakur told HT over the phone.
The DC convened a meeting in the evening to discuss the further course of action. The meeting was attended by geologists, tunnel experts from Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd, Border Roads Organisation (BRO) officials and a team of engineers from the Himalayan Construction Company.
“In the meeting, we discussed alternate ways to trace Hriday Ram. The entire zone has become fragile. The cracks in the tunnel will have to be stabilised. At this stage, we can’t go ahead with the rescue work. We can’t take risk,” said the DC.
She, however, said the administration hasn’t given up hope and attempts will be made to trace Hriday Ram. “We will resume boring (horizontally) through the debris to make way for workers and rescuers. But that will happen only after the final plan is put into place,” she said.
Earlier, the DC, along with district police chief Balbir Thakur, briefed the media about the decision to suspend rescue operations. The two rescued workers Satish Tomar and Mani Ram were also present at the briefing. “We have no clue about Hriday Ram,” said Satish Tomar.
“We have briefed Hriday Ram’s family on the current scenario. The family has been told that he (Hriday) remains untraced,“ said Bilaspur superintendent of police Balbir Thakur.
The labourers were part of a crew of 20 that was constructing tunnel no 4 of the Kiratpur-Ner Chowk four-lane road when a cave-in blocked the entrance with tonnes of earth and boulders. While the other men working on the 1.2-km project managed to escape, three were trapped.