BILASPUR: For nine days, rescue workers have been digging their way through a hill, inch by inch, driven by hope and feeble voices heard on a CCTV camera. In a few hours, they hope to pull out three men trapped in a collapsed tunnel in Bilaspur in Himachal Pradesh.
Challenged by incessant rain, sliding debris and machine trouble, the team on Sunday performed prayers.
Using a drilling machine brought in from Jaipur, the 50-member team has been able to make a vertical shaft from the hilltop to the roof of the tunnel.
On the weekend, the machine developed a snag, which was fixed early this morning.
"A few more hours and we should be through," said Jaideep Singh, a senior official of the National Disaster Response Force, which is leading the massive effort at the accident site around 110 km from Shimla.
The men were working on the tunnel, which is a part of a highway project, when a large section caved in on September 12, bringing boulders crashing down. The other men working on the 1200-meter tunnel were able to come out safely when a part of it suddenly gave way.
Last week, two of the men appeared on a high resolution video camera that was inserted down a pipe, and they have been in touch with the rescue workers since.
"We can survive for another 7-8 days...Please keep going," one of the men, Satish Tomar, pleaded, his co-worker Maniram by his side. Their third companion Hriday Ram has not been seen or heard since the accident.
Cashew nuts, almonds, glucose biscuits and water is being pushed down a pipe for the two survivors.
Family members of the trapped men have been camping at the site. Some of them were in tears when the drilling machine stopped working on Saturday. As the work resumed this morning, they were seen folding their hands in prayer.