Indian rescuers cautioned on Friday (17) that it might require an additional two days of clearing debris before they can reach the 40 workers who have been trapped in a collapsed tunnel for nearly a week.
Excavators have been removing debris since Sunday morning to create an escape route for the workers after a portion of the tunnel they were building collapsed in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand.
Rescue efforts have been slowed by debris that has continued to fall as workers labour to clear the tunnel.
After an earth-boring drill developed problems, the air force on Wednesday flew in a second drilling machine on a C-130 Hercules military plane, with the giant drill bit stretching much the length of the aircraft’s cargo hold.
Engineers are trying to drive a steel pipe about 90 centimetres (nearly three feet) wide through the debris — wide enough for the trapped men to squeeze through.
By Thursday night, only 18 metres (60 feet) of pipe had been inserted into the debris with the help of the new machine.
“If the work continues at this rate, it will take another 40-48 hours to rescue the workers,” rescue leader Deepak Patil said Friday morning.
As rescuers race to save the men, India has sought advice from the Thai company that rescued children from a flooded cave in 2018, as well as engineering experts in soil and rock mechanics at the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute.
Rescuers have been communicating with the trapped men using radios.
Food, water, oxygen and medicine have also been sent to the trapped workers via a six-inch-wide (15-centimetre) pipe.
No official details have been given about the condition of the men, but local media reported that some were suffering from vomiting, headaches, anxiety and stomach problems.
A six-bed field hospital has also been set up outside the site with ambulances on standby to transfer serious cases to a proper hospital.
The 4.5-kilometre (2.7-mile) tunnel was being constructed between the towns of Silkyara and Dandalgaon to connect Uttarkashi and Yamunotri, two of the holiest Hindu shrines.