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Rescuers battle to save 40 workers trapped in tunnel

DEHRADUN (AFP) – Rescuers in northern India battled for a second day yesterday to save 40 workers trapped underground after the road tunnel they were building collapsed, bringing down tonnes of debris.

Teams using heavy excavators have been working nonstop since the collapse on Sunday morning to clear piles of concrete and earth, but with more debris falling as workers tried to clear a passage, a giant steel pipe was being prepared as an escape route.

“All the 40 workers trapped inside the tunnel are safe,” senior commander in the National Disaster Response Force Karamveer Singh Bhandari told AFP from the site in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, adding that water and food had been sent.

Oxygen was being pumped into the blocked portion of the tunnel, with food sent through a water pipe.

Rathodi said excavators had removed about 20 metres of heavy debris, but the men were 40 metres beyond that point.

“Due to excess debris in the tunnel, we are facing some difficulty in the rescue, but our team is leaving no stone unturned,” Bhandari added.

Teams plan to use a heavy machine to drive a steel pipe with a width of 90 centimetres, wide enough for the trapped men to squeeze through, the government’s highway and infrastructure company said. “Water, food, oxygen, electricity all are available with the work force trapped inside the tunnel… All the stranded workers are safe as communicated by them,” the statement added.

Initial contact was made via a note on a scrap of paper, but later rescuers managed to connect using radio handsets. “Some small food packets were sent in through a pipe which is also taking oxygen inside,” rescue official Durgesh Rathodi told AFP from the site.

Rescue workers gather at the site after a tunnel collapsed in the Uttarkashi district of India’s Uttarakhand state. PHOTO: AFP