By Saurabh Sharma
LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) -Indian officials said on Monday they hoped to free all 40 workers who have been trapped for about 35 hours in a collapsed tunnel in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand after rescuers managed to establish contact with those inside.
Excavators and other heavy machinery bore through the debris to carve out a path to reach the workers and prepare an escape passage, local media channels showed.
The tunnel, which was being built on a national highway that is part of a Hindu pilgrimage route, caved in around 5:30 a.m. on Sunday (2400 GMT on Saturday), local administration said in a statement.
“The relief forces are removing the debris and soon we will have all the labourers out,” state police chief Ashok Kumar told Reuters. Kumar said there was enough space for the trapped workers to move inside the tunnel.
Rescuers managed to make contact with them and were communicating through a walkie talkie, Kumar said. They also delivered oxygen through a compression pipe and supplied food, he added.
The exact cause of the accident was not yet known, Kumar said.
A steel pipe 900 mm (35.4 inch) in diameter and about 60-70 m (65.6-76.6 yards) long will be delivered from the state capital to bring the workers out of the tunnel, Devendra Singh Patwal, a disaster management official, said.
The workers were completing the final 400 m stretch of the proposed 4 km (2.5 mile) long tunnel when debris came down on the site, the state’s Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami told reporters.
Uttarakhand in north India is prone to landslides, earthquakes and floods.
The Char Dham pilgrimage route is one of the most ambitious projects of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. It aims to connect four important Hindu pilgrimage sites of North India through 889 km of two-lane road being built at a cost of $1.5 billion.
But some work has been halted by local authorities after hundreds of houses were damaged by subsidence along the routes, including in Uttarakhand, with geologists, residents and officials blaming the rapid construction in the geologically unstable mountains.
(Reporting by Saurabh Sharma; Writing by Kanjyik Ghosh;Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Tomasz Janowski)
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