In India, forty-one construction workers trapped for ten days in a collapsed road tunnel have been filmed alive on Tuesday for the first time, looking exhausted and anxious, as rescuers try to create a new passage to free them.
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 is delivered to them.
“We will get you out of there safe and sound, don’t worry,” the rescuers tell the trapped men gathered around the camera in a video released by the authorities.
For ten days , excavators 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, trapping these workers under earth.
< /p> India © AFP – Sylvie HUSSON
But rescue efforts were slow, complicated by falling debris and repeated breakdowns of the drilling machines used, with the air force forced to 'deliver new equipment by air twice.
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, in order to create a safe escape route for the workers.
– “Top priority” –
Before the introduction of the camera, rescuers communicated with the trapped men inside the tunnel by radio.
“All workers are safe,” Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said in a statement.
Image taken by an endoscopic camera and released by the Department of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) of Uttarakhand on November 21, 2023, shows a group of workers trapped inside a tunnel under construction, several days after its collapse in the state of Uttarakhand, India © Department of Information and Public Relation (DIPR) Uttarakhand – –
“We are trying with all our strength to quickly bring them out safely” . 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 line was halted Friday after a cracking sound that “caused panic,” officials said. responsible.
These works resumed on Tuesday, according to the Uttarakhand state emergency operations center.
– Complex operations –
Rescue teams are also exploring two other ways to reach the men.
Rescue teams at the entrance to a tunnel under construction which collapsed, on November 18, 2023 in the state of Uttarakhand, India © AFP – –
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 to be 89 meters deep, and this solution requires a potentially complex excavation above people, in a rocky area that has already suffered collapse.
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 to assess the stability of the area where the men are trapped.
Rescuers at the site of a tunnel collapse in Uttarkashi district, Uttarakhand state, on November 13, 2023 in India © AFP – –
Experts have warned against 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 Infrastructure plans by Narendra Modi, aimed at reducing travel times between some of the country's most popular Hindu sites, as well as improving access to strategic areas bordering 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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