SILKYARA, India, Nov 21 (Reuters) – The first images emerged on Tuesday of 41 men trapped for more than a week in a highway tunnel in the Indian Himalayas, showing them standing in the confined space and communicating with rescue workers.
The men have been trapped in the 4.5-kilometer (3-mile) tunnel in Uttarakhand state since it collapsed early Nov. 12 and are safe, officials said, with access to light, oxygen, food, water and medicines.
They have not said what caused the collapse, but the region is prone to landslides, earthquakes and flooding. Efforts to extract the 41 men have been slowed by problems drilling through debris in the mountainous terrain.
A 30-second video provided by authorities showed a dozen trapped men standing in a semicircle in front of the camera, wearing construction workers’ helmets and jackets over their clothing, against the backdrop of tunnel lights.
A rescuer outside could be heard telling the men to come before the camera one by one, to confirm their identities on the walkie-talkie they had been sent.
The video was recorded through a medical endoscopy camera that was inserted through a second, wider pipe, 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter, drilled through the rubble on Monday, authorities said.
In the video, the trapped men appeared to be fine and responded that they were fine when asked about their well-being, said a rescue control room official who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Rescuers on Tuesday plan to resume horizontal drilling through a 60-meter (195-foot) pile of rubble to push through a pipe large enough for the trapped men to crawl out.
Drilling was suspended on Friday due to a problem with a machine and fears of a new collapse.
Authorities are simultaneously working on five other plans to remove workers, including vertical drilling from the top of the mountain.
Abhishek Sharma, a psychiatrist sent to the scene by the state government, said he had asked the 41 men to walk within the 2 kilometer (1.2 mile) area where they are confined, do light yoga exercises and talk regularly with each other to keep busy.
“Sleep is very important for them… and so far they have been sleeping well and did not report any difficulty sleeping,” Sharma told Reuters, adding that the men were in good spirits and eager to get out soon.
Another doctor at the scene, Prem Pokhriyal, said the men had been asked to avoid intense exercises that could increase the buildup of carbon dioxide in the confined space when exhaling.
The trapped men are low-wage workers, most of them from poor states in northern and eastern India.
“He said it’s fine,” Sunita Hembrom, sister-in-law of one of the workers trapped in the tunnel, Surendra Kisko, told reporters after speaking with him.
“He said, ‘Take care of yourselves, the kids and the parents. Just tell us what you’re doing to get us out of here.'”
Reported by Saurabh Sharma at Silkyara; Written by YP Rajesh; Editing by Clarence Fernandez
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