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NEW DELHI — The 41 construction workers who have been trapped in a collapsed tunnel in northern India for over a week are finally getting hot meals Tuesday, provided through a newly installed steel pipe, as rescuers work on an alternate plan of digging toward them vertically.
The meals, made of rice and lentils, were sent through a 6-inch pipe pushed through the rubble late Monday, said Deepa Gaur, a government spokesperson.
For the last nine days, the workers survived off of dry food sent through a narrower pipe. Oxygen is being supplied to them through a separate pipe.
Officials on Tuesday released a video, after a camera was pushed through the pipe, showing the workers in their construction hats moving around the blocked tunnel while communicating with rescuers on the ground through walkie-talkies. Their families have been growing more worried and frustrated as the rescue operation drags on.
The tunnel collapsed in Uttarakhand state, a mountainous region that has proved a challenge to the drilling machine which broke down as rescuers attempted to dig horizontally toward the trapped workers. The machine’s high-intensity vibrations also caused more debris to fall, prompting officials to suspend rescue efforts briefly.
Currently, rescuers are creating an access road to the top of the hill from where they will dig vertically. From the vertical direction, drilling to the tunnel will take a few days and debris could fall during the digging, officials said Monday. Rescue teams will need to dig 338 feet downward to reach the trapped workers — nearly double the distance.
Authorities said they would also continue digging horizontally from the mouth of the tunnel toward the laborers.
The workers have been trapped since Nov. 12, when a landslide caused a portion of the 2.8-mile tunnel they were building to collapse about 650 feet from the entrance.
Uttarakhand is dotted with Hindu temples, and highway and building construction has been constant to accommodate the influx of pilgrims and tourists. The tunnel is part of the Chardham all-weather road, a flagship federal project connecting various Hindu pilgrimage sites.
About 200 disaster relief personnel have been at the site using drilling equipment and excavators in the rescue operation.