New video shows trapped laborers alive in Himalayan tunnel but rescue still no closer

The first images of dozens of men trapped inside a collapsed Himalayan tunnel have emerged, as a complex and frustrating operation to free them enters its tenth day.

Video captured by a camera fed through a pipe by rescuers on the surface shows the men wearing helmets and standing in a large cavern around 60 meters (198 feet) inside the mountain.

“Don’t worry, we’ll reach quickly,” a rescuer says through a loudspeaker. “Show us you’re okay. Take the camera out (of the pipe) slowly. Show us each person’s face.”

The 41 trapped laborers have been receiving food, water and oxygen through the pipe after the entrance to the tunnel they were helping to build gave way on November 12.

Indian authorities have been exploring strategies to free the men, including inserting another pipe through the rubble that’s big enough for them to crawl out. But any effort to open a passage through the debris has proven tricky due to the unstable terrain, and drilling has been frequently paused.

In what has been described as the operation’s “first success,” rescuers managed to insert a 53-meter (174 ft) pipe through the rubble late Monday, allowing them to deliver their first hot meal of lentils, water, medicines and oxygen to the trapped laborers.

“Confidence of keeping the lives of the trapped workers safe has increased manifold,” said a statement released by state officials on Monday. “After this good news, there is happiness and enthusiasm on the rescue fronts along with the workers and their families and now there is a lot of hope for other rescue options.”

A makeshift hospital has been set up at the tunnel’s entrance, but a rescue doesn’t look imminent as workers continue to brainstorm ways to bring the trapped men out.

Video shows a monitor showing the feed of a camera being sent down through a pipe installed into the tunnel. A rescue official can be heard directing the workers to pull the camera through, asking about their condition and to see the other works on camera. - Uttarakhand Government Handout
Video shows a monitor showing the feed of a camera being sent down through a pipe installed into the tunnel. A rescue official can be heard directing the workers to pull the camera through, asking about their condition and to see the other works on camera. - Uttarakhand Government Handout

A complicated rescue

Authorities established contact with the men soon after the collapse and have since embarked on a frantic mission to bring them out safely, aided by local police, India’s Disaster Management Authority and State Disaster Response Fund.

Rescuers first attempted to dig through the debris to reach the men, however progress was slow as more rubble fell into the shaft.

They then brought in a drill to try to create a hole wide enough to insert a pipe through which the men could crawl to safety. But work was paused after a landslide complicated those efforts and officials decided the machine wasn’t powerful enough.

Authorities then flew in a high-powered drill from the capital New Delhi to begin work on an escape pipe as anger grew among relatives outside the tunnel’s entrance.

As that machine went to work, a “large-scale cracking sound” was heard last Friday, Reuters reported, citing a statement from the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation, prompting authorities to pause the drilling once again.

Rescuers are now considering drilling from three directions, including vertically, while pipes designed for the rescue mission have been successfully inserted into approximately 25 meters (82 feet) of the debris.

Authorities say they are exploring all options to reach the men, including reaching out for international help to teams involved in other complex rescues.

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