More than 160 hours have passed since 41 workers became trapped in a tunnel in Uttarakhand, and a recent map has revealed a potential serious error on the part of the construction company. According to the Standard Operating Procedure, tunnels longer than 3 km should have an escape route in case of emergencies. The map shows that an escape route was planned for the 4.5 km Silkyara tunnel but was never built.
Rescue teams are now devising alternative plans to free the workers who have been stranded in the tunnel since Sunday morning. Concerns are growing among the families of the trapped workers, most of whom are migrants, after the drill machine used for the rescue operation stopped working on Friday evening following a loud cracking sound. Some family members and construction workers believe that if the escape route had been constructed, the laborers could have been saved by now.
Escape routes are designed to be utilized even after the tunnels are constructed, providing a means of rescue for people passing through them in vehicles in the event of a collapse, landslide, or other disaster.
The map displaying the planned escape route was shown to Union Minister VK Singh during his visit to the collapse site on Thursday. Singh stated that the workers would be rescued within two to three days. While the minister of state for road transport and highways suggested that the rescue could potentially be completed sooner, the government is taking into account unexpected difficulties and preparing for a longer timeline.
Several rescue plans have been attempted, with three more being developed. Plan B involved using an auger machine to push a 900 mm pipe through to the trapped workers. However, the machine proved ineffective due to its lack of power. Plan C introduced a stronger American auger machine, which began drilling through the increasing rubble on Thursday but stopped working after the cracking sound was heard. Plan D involves the arrival of another horizontal drilling machine from Indore, which is expected to successfully reach the workers.
Contingency plans E and F are being considered in case Plan D fails. The first contingency plan involves drilling a hole vertically from the top of the rock where the tunnel passes through, enabling the workers to be extracted. The final plan, proposed by the railways, suggests digging a parallel tunnel horizontally from the opposite end of the rock, intersecting with the main tunnel at the point where the workers are trapped.
As time passes, the families of the trapped workers are growing increasingly anxious. One worker’s brother expressed the urgent need for rescue before their health deteriorates. Doctors also stress the importance of comprehensive rehabilitation for the trapped workers, as their prolonged confinement may have adverse effects on their physical and mental well-being.