Two trapped workers evacuated in Himachal after over 200 hours

Bilaspur (Himachal Pradesh), Sep 21 (IANS) Rescuers on Monday in a first-of-its kind operation managed to evacuate two of the three trapped workers after over 200 hours of their ordeal in an under-construction tunnel near here that collapsed on September 12. However, the whereabouts of the third worker were not known yet.

“We managed to evacuate Mani Ram and Satish Tomar, who were stuck in the caved-in tunnel since September 21. Both are fine and hospitalised in the Bilaspur district hospital for examination,” Jaideep Singh, commanding officer of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), told IANS.

However, the third worker, Hirdya Ram, was yet to be found.

“We have successfully rescued two people. The NDRF men are going into the tunnel again to search for the third worker,” Bilaspur Deputy Commissioner Manasi Sahay Thakur told reporters at the spot.

She said the operation was not over. “We are hopeful. The operation is still going on. Why should we lose hope of locating the third one?”

The two rescued workers, with whom the rescuers had on Wednesday night managed to establish contact, survived on dry fruits, glucose, water and oxygen supplied through a 42-metre-long pipe.

For the past five days, a 50-odd member team comprising engineers, technical staff and geologists drilled a 42-metre vertical shaft through the mountain in bid to rescue the workers.

A snag in the drilling machine, however, hampered the evacuation throughout Sunday.

Earlier on Monday, two NDRF men entered the dug up 42-metre shaft and penetrated the roof of the tunnel.

As the trapped workers came out of the shaft, they waved towards the onlookers. They were wearing helmets and black sunglasses to prevent their eyes from getting affected by the sunrays.

Officials said this was the first-of-its-kind operation that the NDRF underwent.

“The water level is constantly increasing inside the tunnel and the strata beneath is unstable. So we are carrying out the search operation for the third worker without wasting any time,” an NDRF official said.

“It’s still a tough operation but it’s going on,” the deputy commissioner said.

Bhupinder Dogra of the state emergency services said it took 15-20 minutes for an NDRF rescuer to bring out the stuck workers from the tunnel.

“Two NDRF rescuers went inside the shaft by clinging onto ropes. One by one, both were evacuated,” he said, adding that the rescued men seemed tired but their morale was high.

The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) played an important role in drilling the shaft despite technical snags and rain.

BRO’s director (tunnels) R.S. Rao, who is looking after the Rohtang tunnel project, was camping at the site to oversee the rescue operation.

Of the 1.2-km proposed traffic tunnel of the Kiratpur-Manali expressway road project, 275 metres was excavated when disaster struck on September 12.

The contract for tunnel laying, involving an outlay of Rs.82 crore, has been assigned to the Chandigarh-based Himalayan Construction Co, three of whose workers, belonging to the hill state, were trapped.

Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh said the operation would not stop until the third labourer is traced.

“I hope and pray for the well-being of Hriday Ram, the third labourer who is still missing,” he said in a statement.

He thanked the BRO, the NDRF, the state disaster management authority, the district administration and all others involved in the rescue operation.

“It will be ensured that such incidents do not occur in future,” he said, adding that all safety measures have to be adopted by the construction companies before undertaking hydropower projects, tunnelling or road projects.

–Indo-Asian news Service

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