Indian rescuers dig past halfway mark in efforts to reach trapped workers

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Rescuers in India drilled past the halfway mark on Wednesday in efforts to reach workers trapped in a partially collapsed tunnel in the Himalayas.

Forty-one labourers became trapped in India’s northern Uttarakhand state after part of the passageway to the tunnel’s entrance gave way on November 12, sparking a frantic rescue mission.

The operation has been able to use heavy machinery to successfully drill through two-thirds of the way through the rubble to reach the workers that have been trapped for more than a week, according to authorities on Wednesday.

A total of 39 meters’ drilling has been done with an Auger machine, according to a press release issued by state authorities, adding the drilling was “done at a fast pace.”

There is believed to be a total distance of 60 meters worth of debris between the rescuers and those trapped, authorities said earlier.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, senior government official Dr. Neeraj Khairlanji said, “If there are no further hurdles, then maybe by later tonight or early morning we may have some good news.”

The incident earlier this month left workers confined behind a pile of rubble with little oxygen and water.

Authorities established contact with the men soon after the collapse and embarked on a mission to bring them out safely, aided by local police, India’s Disaster Management Authority and State Disaster Response Fund.

In what was described as the operation’s “first success,” rescuers managed to insert a 53-meter (174 ft) pipe through the rubble late Monday, allowing them to deliver their first hot meal of lentils, water, medicines and oxygen to the trapped laborers.

A second pipeline was put in place on Tuesday to deliver more food to the workers.

The tunnel is part of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Char Dham Highway project, a multimillion-dollar infrastructure plan to improve connectivity in the state of Uttarakhand and provide better access to important pilgrimage locations.

Uttarakhand, a mountainous and picturesque state on India’s border with China, is often referred to as “Devbhumi” or “Land of the Gods” owing to its rich cultural heritage and the abundance of Hindu religious sites.

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