Indian workers remain trapped in the collapsed tunnel, with rescue operations hampered

LUCKNOW, India, Nov 15 (Reuters) – Rescue teams were unable on Wednesday to reach 40 workers trapped in a collapsed highway tunnel in India, as huge boulders hampered efforts to create an evacuation corridor, officials said.

An official involved in the rescue operations told Reuters that three days have passed since the tunnel collapsed, but the workers are still safe and in good health.

The trapped men have been receiving food, water and oxygen through a tube since Sunday morning, after the tunnel collapsed at 5:30 a.m. (0000 GMT).

“A heavy machine is being brought from New Delhi to insert an evacuation pipe as rocks are blocking the existing pipe,” Uttar Pradesh Relief Commissioner GS Naveen told Reuters.

There were about 50 to 60 men working the night shift in the 4.5-kilometre-long tunnel, which is being built in the neighboring state of Uttarakhand on a national highway that is part of the Hindu Char Dham pilgrimage route.

Local media reported on Tuesday that the people who were near the tunnel exit came out, while the 40 who were inside were trapped.

The Char Dham Expressway is one of the most ambitious projects of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government. The project aims to connect four pilgrimage sites revered by Hindus in the state of Uttarakhand through 890 km of roads being built at a cost of $1.5 billion.

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The mountainous region is vulnerable to landslides, earthquakes and floods, and the accident comes on the heels of landslide events that geologists, residents and officials blame on rapid construction in the mountains.

The project faced criticism from environmental experts, and some work stopped after hundreds of homes were damaged due to subsidence along the roads.

A government statement said work on the tunnel began in 2018 and was scheduled to be completed by July 2022, but has now been postponed to May 2024.

Reporting by Saurabh Sharma in Lucknow, writing by Tanvi Mehta; Edited by Raju Gopalakrishnan

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