Exactly a week after two workers were trapped following the collapse of an under-construction tunnel in Himachal Pradesh, the authorities on Saturday extended the deadline to rescue them as a drilling rig being used to drill a pathway hit a snag.
The authorities, earlier hopeful the workers would be rescued by late Saturday, extended the deadline by another day.
The rig, parts of which were brought in from Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, has to drill 45m vertically into the tunnel before two labourers - Satish Tomar and Mani Ram - can come out. The third labourer, Hirday Ram, is yet to respond and the authorities are not sure if he is alive. The labourers have been fending for their lives in the tunnel for the Kiratpur-Manali four-lane road project.
The mammoth machine drilled 35m into the tunnel in 24 hours until late Friday evening when it collapsed. It resumed work on Saturday morning, but officials and engineers said the pace of the boring has slowed down from an earlier speed of 1m per hour.
“The machine had to be serviced for better handling as the strata is getting harder with the increasing depth, and it has hit a hard rock,” Bilaspur deputy commissioner Mansi Sahay Thakur told HT.
The machine is at present trying to rip apart a layer of tough sedimentary rocks at the site, which is about 100 km from state capital Shimla.
Moreover, the pace of drilling is expected to slow down further as drillers encounter angle iron rods set inside the concrete. “The rescuers are trying to do whatever they can at the earliest. We have our fingers crossed,” Thakur added.
The collapse has occurred 95 metres from the mouth of the tunnel, while the workers are trapped beyond 160 metres. The tunnel has been built on a stretch of 275 metres so far though its total length is planned to be 1.2 km.
‘Food, water being supplied’
The authorities got in touch with two workers on Wednesday after drilling a hole horizontally into the tunnel and sending in thermal cameras.
The authorities have since been supplying food, water, and oxygen for the two labourers twice a day through a vertical 47-m pipe with a diameter of 4 inches.
On Saturday morning, Thakur said khichdi, glucose, dry fruits and water were sent through the pipe. Packets of oral rehydration solution (ORS) to keep the workers hydrated were also supplied. A doctor and a psychologist were also at the site to talk to the trapped workers.