The operation to rescue labourers stuck in the partially-collapsed Silkyara tunnel is on hold since Friday when a US-made auger machine deployed to drill and push in pipes through the rubble to prepare an escape passage for the trapped workers developed a snag.
Another high-performance drilling machine airlifted from Indore in Madhya Pradesh arrived in Silkyara on Saturday where its three parts will be assembled before it is deployed for drilling, officials on the spot said.
Meanwhile, the number of workers who have been trapped inside the tunnel since Sunday has been revised to 41.
The NHIDCL, which is constructing the tunnel through Navayuga Engineering Company Ltd, came to know about this discrepancy on Friday.
According to an earlier list issued by the NHIDCL, 40 workers were trapped inside the tunnel after a part of it collapsed at around 5.30 am on Sunday.
Deepak Kumar from Muzaffarpur district in Bihar was identified as the 41st person to be stuck in the tunnel.
A team of officials from the Centre including Additional Secretary, MoRTH Mahmood Ahmed, Deputy Secretary, PMO, Mangesh Ghildiyal, Varun Adhikari, Geologist Engg, and engineering expert Armando Capellan have arrived in Silkyara to do an on-the-spot review of the rescue operations.
By the time the operation was halted on Friday afternoon, the heavy-duty auger machine had drilled up to 24 metres through the rubble spread over a 60-metre area inside the tunnel.
Around 2.45 pm on Friday, during the positioning of the fifth pipe, a loud cracking sound was heard in the tunnel after which the rescue operation was suspended, a statement issued by the NHIDCL late on Friday night said.
The sound created panic in the rescue team. The pipe-pushing activity was stopped after an expert involved with the project warned about the possibility of further collapse in the vicinity.
The tunnel is part of the ambitious Char Dham all-weather road project of the central government being constructed under the National Highways & Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited.
Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami held a meeting with officials at his official residence in Dehradun to take an update on the rescue operations at the tunnel in Silkyara.
Dhami said he hopes the state-of-the-art machines manufactured in the country and abroad will be successful in rescuing of the labourers.
"Under the guidance of the PMO, the state government is busy making all efforts to evacuate labourers trapped inside the tunnel ares. We hope we will soon succeed in the mission," he said.
"The government stands with the families of workers who are trapped. Their safe and timely evacuation is our priority," Dhami said.
However, with the rescue operations at the tunnel entering seventh day, families of the stranded labourers are getting desperate.
People who have come to Silkyara from different parts of the country waiting for the safe evacuation of their kin raised their concerns about their well being saying their voices sounded feeble when they talked to them on Saturday.
"All we are getting is assurances from the authorities that the trapped labourers will be rescued. It is nearly a week since they got trapped," a teary-eyed Haridwar Sharma whose younger brother Sushil Sharma is among the trapped workers told PTI.
Sharma, who has come from Rohtas district of Bihar, said the health condition of the stuck labourers is worsening.
"There is no work going on inside the tunnel. Neither the company nor the government is doing anything," Sharma said.
Maharaj Singh Negi from Kotdwar whose brother Gabbar Singh is among the trapped labourers said he is losing patience and hope with every hour.
"I could not talk to my brother. He sounded very weak. He was hardly audible. The rescue work in the tunnel has come to a halt. Those trapped are also short of food and water. We have come to the end of our patience. What more can I say?" he said .