In India, forty-one construction workers trapped for ten days in a collapsed road tunnel were filmed alive for the first time on Tuesday, looking exhausted and anxious, as rescuers tried to create a new passage for the release.
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They appeared, bearded and wearing their construction helmets, in the images filmed by the endoscopic camera that the rescuers were able to send to them via a thin conduit through which air, food and water are conveyed to them .
“We will get you out of there safe and sound, don’t worry,” rescuers tell the trapped men gathered around the camera in a video released by authorities.
For ten days, excavators have removed tons of earth, concrete and rubble from the tunnel under construction in the state of Uttarakhand, north of the Himalayas, part of which collapsed on November 12, enclosing these workers underground.
But rescue efforts were slow, complicated by falling debris and repeated breakdowns of the drilling machines used, with the air force forced to twice airlift new equipment.
An AFP journalist at the site on Tuesday saw trucks bringing man-width sections of metal tubes to the tunnel entrance, which then began to be welded together in jets of metal. sparks, to create a safe escape route for workers.
Before the camera was introduced, rescuers communicated with the men trapped inside the tunnel by radio.
“All workers are safe,” Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said in a statement.
“We are trying with all our strength to get them out quickly, safe and sound.” Mr Dhami claimed he spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the situation, who told him that rescuing workers was a “top priority”.
Engineers tried to drive a steel pipe horizontally wide enough so that the increasingly desperate men could be pulled out of the tunnel, through 57 meters of earth and rock.
But the giant drill they were using ran into boulders, and that drilling route was halted Friday, after a cracking sound that “caused panic,” officials said.
This work resumed on Tuesday, according to the Uttarakhand state emergency operations center.
Rescue teams are also exploring two other ways to reach the men.
One option involves drilling a vertical shaft from the forested hillside above, which would require rescuers to dig an entirely new route to the top of the hill to transport the heavy equipment needed. .
Authorities estimate that this vertical shaft will have a depth of 89 meters, and this solution requires a potentially complex excavation above the men, in a rocky area that has already suffered collapse.
screenshot | AFP
The other option is to drill into the rock on the opposite side of the road tunnel already dug, a much greater distance of about 480 meters, officials said.
A drone could also be sent to assess the stability of the area where the men are trapped.
Experts have warned of the impact of launching large-scale construction in the state of Uttarakhand, where large areas are prone to landslides.
The 4.5 kilometer tunnel under construction is part of Narendra Modi’s infrastructure plans, aimed at reducing travel times between some of the country’s most popular Hindu sites, as well as improving access to strategic bordering areas from rival China.
Among the foreign experts mobilized in recent days, Arnold Dix, president of the International Association of Tunnels and Underground Spaces, wanted to be reassuring. “These 41 men will return home,” he told the Press Trust of India. “When exactly ? I’m not too sure,” he admitted, however.
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