DEHRADUN: At least 40 construction workers were trapped on Sunday after the road tunnel they were building collapsed in northern India, with rescuers scrambling to reach them beneath piles of debris.

The collapse occurred early on Sunday morning in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand when a group of workers were moving out and replacement workers were going in.

“About 200 metres (218 yards) of the tunnel have collapsed,” Durgesh Rathodi, a state disaster response official, said.

“About 40 to 41 workers are trapped inside. Oxygen is being supplied through the debris, but more rubble is coming down as rescuers try to remove the obstruction.” The 4.5-km tunnel is being constructed between Silkyara and Dandalgaon to connect two of the holiest Hindu shrines of Uttarkashi and Yamnotri.

Huge piles of concrete

Photographs released by the government rescue teams showed huge piles of concrete blocking the wide tunnel, with twisted metal bars on its broken roof poking down in front of the rubble.

“Pray to God that those workers trapped inside the tunnel are brought out safely,” Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami wrote on social media platform X.

Rathodi, the disaster response official, said a message was sent to the trapped workers through a tube that is pumping oxygen into the blocked portion of the tunnel, assuring them “all efforts are being made for your safety”.

“No response to the message has come from inside yet,” he said, adding that more rubble was coming down from above as machines constantly removed the debris.

A local police officer told the Press Trust of India news agency they were “very optimistic” the men would be rescued safely, but added it was “difficult to say how long it will take”.

The tunnel is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Char Dham Road Project, which is meant to improve connectivity for some of the most popular Hindu shrines in the country, as well as areas bordering China.

Accidents on large infrastructure construction sites are common in India.

In January, at least 200 people were killed in flash floods in Uttarakhand in a disaster that experts partly blamed on excessive development.

Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2023

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