As the rescue operations, to safely evacuate 41 workers trapped in the under-construction Silkyara tunnel, are close to being completed, ambulances and stretchers have reached the spot.
On Tuesday, 28 November, micro-tunnelling expert Chris Cooper told news agency ANI, "We are expecting to see some results by 5 pm. "
Through manual drilling, the pipe was sent to 55.3 metres depth and the tunnel has been opened and the workers are likely to be evacuated by 5 pm.
Preparations have been made for the medical examination of the workers. Mattresses have reached the spot and the families of the workers have been asked to keep their bags ready.
The workers will be taken to Chinyalisour for treatment. Helicopters have been deployed there in case any of the workers need to be airlifted because of health concerns.
Outside the tunnel, a 41-bed temporary hospital and 12 ambulances, on standby, have been made available.
A portion of the tunnel had collapsed in Uttarakhand's Uttarkashi on 12 November. After being trapped for 12 days, the workers are now quite close to being rescued, district authorities have said.
The rescue operation was supposed to be completed on Wednesday, 22 November, but was stalled due to technical glitches.
Three experts, including Roorkee’s chief scientist RD Dwivedi, have reached the tunnel site to oversee the operations.
Uttarkashi District Magistrate Abhishek Ruhela said,
“There have been some challenges in the rescue operations. We’ve called experts for help. Based on their suggestions, we’re carrying forward the rescue of the workers.”
While the workers were trapped, they were supplied basic food — dry fruits, puffed rice, popcorn — and water, through pipes, for sustenance.
‘Breathing Issues, Hypoxia a Concern’
For the past 12 days, doctors have been raising concerns that the workers might suffer from acute respiratory issues, breathing issues, and hypoxia because of the lack of oxygen in the tunnel, Dr Anoop Purkayastha, Head Emergency, Fortis Escorts, Okhla Road, New Delhi, told FIT.
According to National Institute of Health (NIH), hypoxia is a state in which oxygen is not available in sufficient amounts at the tissue level to maintain adequate internal stability due to changing external conditions.
Dr Pratibha Dogra, Senior Consultant - Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine, at Gurugram’s Marengo Asia Hospital, explained:
"These workers are already at risk of respiratory problems because of their exposure to gases like nitric oxide and chemicals like silica. But due to this prolonged exposure to dust and debris, now they might be facing issues like breathlessness, bronchitis, cough, asthma, etc, which could have long-term impacts too."
The only thing to safeguard their health at the moment, she explained, would be some kind of ventilation that allows the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide to be maintained.
'Serious Health Impact Without Regular Bowel Movement'
Another concern is that these people might suffer from malnutrition and constipation since their dietary requirements wouldn’t have been fulfilled, said Dr Purkayastha.
But the bigger issue would be that since they won’t have any place to defecate or urinate, that could impact their health significantly, the doctor adds.
“We have already supplied vitamin C and medication for constipation and headaches, as requested," Uttarkashi Chief Medical Officer RCS Panwar told The Times of India.
Holding in urine for a long time may not only cause a urinary tract infection (UTI), but also pain, bladder stretching, and more. There are more serious complications that can happen if one does not have regular bowel movements, the doctor added.
Swollen, inflamed veins in your rectum, and damage to pelvic floor muscles, include some of the complications.
What’s Happening in the Rescue Operations?
“The priority in the entire operation is to save the lives of the workers. Multiple strategies have been employed including vertical and perpendicular drilling. CM Pushkar Singh Dhami and I have taken the presentation and reports of the ongoing rescue efforts.”Union Minister Nitin Gadkari told media
“If the auger machine works properly, we will be able to reach them in the next 2 to 2.5 days,” he added.
What are rescue teams doing?
The rescue operations are being carried out jointly by six government teams – National Highways & Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited, ONGC, Rail Vikas Nigam Limited, Satluj Jal Vikas Nigam Limited, the Border Roads Organisation, and Uttarakhand Public Works Department.
The rescue teams are building an access road, through vertical drilling, above the tunnel to the top of the hill to reach the trapped workers.
Through pipes, the authorities are supplying food, water, multivitamins, antidepressants, and other essentials to the workers.
Dr Dogra said, "It would help if the rescue teams could send pulse oxymeters and oxygen cylinders inside the tunnel to keep the workers' oxygen levels in check."
The under-construction tunnel is part of the Char Dham project that aims to increase connectivity to Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri.