Indian rescuers announced on Thursday (16), the deployment of a powerful new drilling machine as they entered the fifth day of their efforts to rescue 40 workers trapped in a collapsed road tunnel.
Excavators have been removing debris since Sunday morning from the site of the collapse in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand to create an escape tunnel for the workers, some of whom have fallen sick.
But rescue efforts have been slowed by debris continuing to fall as workers laboured to clear the tunnel, with progress stalled after an earth-boring drill developed problems.
The air force flew in a second drilling machine on a C-130 Hercules military plane on Wednesday, with the giant drill bit stretching much the length of the aircraft’s cargo hold.
“Drilling is starting soon,” rescue leader Deepak Patil said Thursday.
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.
India has sought advice from the Thai company that rescued children from a flooded cave in 2018 as it races to save the men, as well as from engineering experts in soil and rock mechanics at the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute.
Rescuers can communicate with the trapped men using radios.
Food, water and oxygen have also been sent to the trapped workers via a pipe — too narrow for people to escape through — as well as medicine.
No details have been given about the condition of the men or how many of them were sick.
Dozens of colleagues of the trapped workers protested outside the tunnel on Wednesday, blaming authorities for “slow rescue work”, one of the protesters told AFP.
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.
Experts have warned about the impact of extensive construction in Uttarakhand, where large parts of the state are prone to landslides.
Accidents on big infrastructure projects are common in India.
In January, at least 200 people were killed in flash floods in ecologically fragile Uttarakhand in a disaster that experts partly blamed on excessive development.