Late Tuesday night – nearly 60 hours after a glacier burst in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli unleashed a avalanche that trapped between 34 and 39 people inside the 2.5 km-long Tapovan tunnel – rescue teams finally managed to clear some of the debris and, with great caution, enter the structure.
Visuals from news agency ANI showed a joint team of ITBP, NDRF and SDRF personnel – wearing high-visibility jackets and yellow hardhats – tramp through ankle-deep slush and enter the tunnel.
Inside, all is dark and the meagre light from torches and the miner’s lamps show boulders and large chunks of concrete embedded in the mud and slush that seems to have filled most of the tunnel, which is U-shaped and measures 12 by 15 feet.
The tunnel has just one entry but bifurcates into two, making it harder to locate the missing men.
The walls of the tunnel are cracked and there is the sound of falling water in the background, as the emergency teams shout out warnings and notes to each other.
“Nobody else will enter… nobody. Go back, go back, it is not safe,” one man can be heard.
“Shine the light there, shine it there,” another says, while a third shouts out, “On the wall, the wall.”
#WATCH: A joint team of ITBP, NDRF, SDRF & other sister agencies entered into the tunnel (being cleared off debris). Drone camera used to see the feasibility to enter beyond the cleared site inside the tunnel. Machines back on the job of clearing the slush: ITBP
(Source: ITBP) pic.twitter.com/akaqkD1sUB
— ANI (@ANI) February 9, 2021
As the video plays out the rescuers discuss how best to proceed. One warns about unstable mud pockets on the floor, another warns of falling rocks and water hazards.
“Everybody quiet.. quiet please. Shut up,” another voice shouts out, as senior members take stock.
Eventually, after a recce of the parts of the tunnel they have managed to clear, the men walk back.
Tuesday afternoon it was estimated that only 80 of the 180 metres that needs to be cleared had been cleared. It is unclear, at this time, how much more progress has been made, but the rescuers are not giving up hope.
“There is an accumulation of a large amount of debris and sludge inside… we pull it out via buckets but the sludge keeps coming back. Progress is slow but we are trying to speed it up,” SDRF (State Disaster Response Force) personnel told ANI.
“We’ve cleared up to 60 metres inside the tunnel and can see up to 30 more… but there is still a lot of work left. A large amount of debris… never witnessed such a situation before,” others added.
“We hope to save the people stuck inside,” emergency workers, who have already saved 12 men from another, smaller, tunnel, said.
Outside, meanwhile, other teams are on standby with extra lights and earth-moving equipment. Medical teams are ready with oxygen cylinders and stretchers to help to those brought out.