New drill bores deeper into tunnel rubble in India to create an escape pipe for 40 trapped workers

LUCKNOW, India (AP) — Rescuers drilled deeper into the rubble of a collapsed road tunnel in northern India on Friday to repair wide pipes so 40 workers stuck underground for a sixth day can crawl to freedom.

Drilling with a new machine began on Thursday and has covered a distance of 24 meters (78 feet) so far, said Devendra Patwal, a disaster management official.

It could take up to 60 meters (195 feet) to allow the trapped workers to escape, Patwal told The Associated Press on Friday.

Patwal said rescuers hoped to complete the drilling by Friday evening and create an escape tunnel made of pipes welded together.

Some of the workers experienced fever and body aches on Wednesday, but their condition did not worsen, he said. Nuts, roasted chickpeas, popcorn and medicine are sent to them via a pipe every two hours.

Construction workers have been trapped since Sunday when a landslide caused part of the 4.5-kilometer-long tunnel they were building to collapse about 200 meters from the entrance. The hilly area is prone to landslides and subsidence.

The location is in Uttarakhand, a mountainous state with numerous Hindu temples that attract large numbers of pilgrims and tourists. Road and building construction continued continuously to accommodate the influx.

The tunnel is part of the busy all-weather Chardham Road, a flagship federal project that connects various Hindu pilgrimage sites.

Around 200 disaster relief workers were on site and used drilling equipment and excavators during the rescue operation to push 80 centimeter wide steel pipes through an opening with excavated rubble.

A machine used earlier this week pushed the pipes slowly through the rubble, according to a statement from the state government.

The new American Auger machine has a drilling capacity of up to 5 meters (16 feet) per hour and is equipped with a 990-centimeter (2.9-foot) diameter pipe for debris removal. At times it is slowed down by the pile of rubble.

State officials have contacted Thai experts who helped rescue a youth soccer team trapped in a cave in Thailand in 2018, state government administrator Gaurav Singh said. They have also contacted the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute for possible help.

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