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Rescuers `Close’ To Breaking Through Silkyara Tunnel Rubble, End Of Workers’ Ordeal Nears

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UTTARKASHI/NEW DELHI, Nov 28: Rescue workers on Tuesday were close to breaking through the 60-metre stretch of rubble of the collapsed Silkyara tunnel in Uttarakhand in which 41 workers are trapped for the last 16 days, officials said.

At the disaster site, state government’s information department chief Bansi Dhar Tiwari told reporters a little after 1.30 pm that the drilling was “over”.

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Less than an hour later, Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said the process of laying the escape pipe into the drilled passage was complete. “Soon all brother workers will be brought out,” he posted on social media.

Earlier, NHIDCL managing director Mahmood Ahmed did not immediately confirm that the drilling work was over. He told reporters that the last section of the pipe was being pushed through.

But at his 4 pm media briefing in Delhi, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) member Lt Gen (retd) Syed Ata said the rescue workers were near a breakthrough, “but not quite there”.

He said the rat-hole mining experts – manually drilling through the last stretch – had reached the 58-metre point, and there were about two more metres to go.

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But at the disaster site the mood was upbeat over the imminent end of the multi-agency rescue operation.

An eight-bed makeshift health centre was set up inside the tunnel to provide immediate medical care to the workers after their evacuation.

Ambulances had lined up at the mouth of the tunnel to rush the rescued workers to the community health centre about 30 kilometres away, after the initial checkup at the site.

A stretch of mud road was re-laid to make the passage of ambulances easier. Stretchers were being taken inside the mouth of the tunnel.

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As information about the “breakthrough” emerged at the site, some people outside chanted “Jai Shri Ram”.

Earlier, L&T team leader Chris Cooper predicted an early end to the workers’ ordeal. “It is likely that they will be out before 5 pm,” he told reporters. He said vertical drilling, the simultaneous drilling operation to reach the workers from above the tunnel, had now been called off.

Officials decided to switch to manual boring to break through the last 10 metres of the rubble after the heavy-duty auger drilling machine got stuck in the rubble on Friday.

Twelve rat-hole mining experts were called in to finish the last stretch of drilling using hand-held tools in a confined space.

Waiting at the tunnel site to see his 22-year-old son Manjit, Chaudhry said officials had told the families camping in Silkyara that arrangements will be made for them wherever the workers are taken after evacuation.

“Even, nature looks cheerful today,” Jaimal Singh said as he waited for his brother Gabbar Singh’s evacuation.

“We have been asked to keep our belongings rolled up and wait for further instructions,” he said.

A special ward with 41 oxygen-supported beds was readied days earlier at the community health centre in Chinyalisaur, about 30 km from Silkyara, for the rescued workers.

Doctors were standing by and arrangements made to fly the workers to more advanced hospitals, if needed. (PTI)

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