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Uttarkashi Tunnel Collapse: NDMA Faces Setback As Silkyara Tunnel Rescue Drilling Halts Due To Obstructions

Last night, boring through the rubble of the collapsed Silkyara tunnel in Uttarkashi was put on hold again, apparently after cracks appeared in the platform on which the drilling machine rests. 

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Rescue operation underway in Uttarkashi
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The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) announced on Friday that efforts to drill through the debris at the Silkyara tunnel in Uttarakhand, where 41 workers are trapped, have faced a setback. No further progress has been made since Thursday due to obstructions, prompting a temporary halt in the drilling process. However, the NDMA assured that repair work is underway to resume drilling using an auger machine in the near future.

Lt Gen (retd) Syed Ata Hasnain, a member of the NDMA, emphasized that every available resource is being utilized to ensure the rescue of the trapped workers. He stated that despite facing challenges and obstacles, the operation is ongoing, and there is a commitment to the safe extraction of the workers.

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Providing operational details, Hasnain mentioned that the auger machine is expected to drill approximately 4-5 meters per hour, assuming there are no additional hindrances. However, he cautioned against speculation on the timeline for completion, highlighting the complexity of the rescue operation.

Hasnain urged the media to refrain from creating unfounded expectations regarding the rescue timeline, emphasizing the difficulty and challenges inherent in such operations. He emphasized the importance of accurate reporting to avoid misinformation and incorrect perceptions.

Addressing concerns about the well-being of the trapped workers, Hasnain reassured that all workers are safe. Relatives, Union Minister VK Singh, and Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami have communicated with the workers to provide support and updates.

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After hitting an obstacle at the final round of the arduous rescue operation, functions have resumed on Friday Aat Uttarkashi's Sikyara tunnel. According to former advisor to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) Bhaskar Khulbe, it was likely to reach the trapped workers by this evening.

 "We have to go (drill) 14 metres further inside the tunnel. If everything goes well, we hope to reach (the workers stuck inside) by today evening," says Khulbe on Silkyara tunnel rescue.

He further added, "We have been able to fix the auger machine strongly on its foundation. There were some obstacles on the mouth of the pipe, which we had to clear after cutting it. This is a difficult work, hence it is taking time." 

"We are hoping that our work will be over by 6 pm, however, this is as per our calculations. The auger machine is working well now. The trapped workers are in good frame of mind", he said.

Last night's glitch in rescue operation

Late on Thursday, boring through the rubble of the collapsed tunnel was put on hold again, apparently after cracks appeared in the platform on which the drilling machine rests. 

The latest obstacle came hours after the rescue operation resumed earlier in the day, following a six-hour delay to cut through an iron girder that came in the way of the auger machine late on Wednesday.

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This is the third time that the drilling exercise has been halted since the multi-agency rescue mission began on November 12 after a stretch of the under-construction tunnel in Uttarakhand's Char Dham route collapsed.

Officials said the rescuers have managed to drill the rubble up to 48 metres. However, another 10 metres remain to be covered to allow the trapped labourers to be evacuated. 

A team of a dozen doctors, including general physicians and psychiatrists from Uttarkashi and Dehradun, are stationed at the site. 

The officials said the team members regularly talk to the trapped labourers -- for at least for 30 minutes in the morning and the same duration during the evening.

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Mental health of the workers

Keeping in mind the importance of helping the trapped workers to stay motivated and hopeful, Dr Rohit Gondwal, one of the psychiatrists at the rescue site, said "We are planning to provide ludo and chess boards and playing cards to help them (trapped labourers) relieve stress. The operation is getting delayed and it appears that it will take some more time." 

He said all 41 workers are fine but need to stay healthy and mentally fit. 

"They told us that they play 'chor-police', do yoga and exercise daily to de-stress," Gondwal said. 

Speaking on the mental health of the trapped workers, another medical expert said their morale needs to stay high and they must remain motivated. A team of doctors speaks daily to the workers and asks about their health and mental conditions. 

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