It has been almost three weeks since 15 miners got stuck inside a flooded “rat-hole mine” in Meghalaya’s East Jaintia Hills, but the wait for the much-needed high-powered pumps still continues. Rescue operations were suspended on Monday, after the low-powered pumps being used to suck out water failed to rise to the occasion.
Over 70 National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) personnel are carrying out rescue work in the 320-feet pit along with state agencies and a team of experts from Coal India. Although the operation was launched barely a day after the mine collapsed on December 13, divers have only been to recover a few helmets until now. Water had flooded into the mine from a nearby river soon after the collapse.
The Air Force has flown in 10 high-capacity pumps from Bhubaneswar to Guwahati, from where they are being transported by road to the East Jaintia Hills. The equipment should be available for use today after covering 220 km from the airport, sources said.
A team of 15 Navy divers has also been airlifted from Visakhapatnam to join the rescue operations; they are expected at the site within 12 hours.
“Coal India experts are here to survey what can be done next. Our divers will descend into the well once the pumps arrive and the water is brought down to a manageable level,” said NDRF Assistant Commandant SK Singh, who is leading the central rescue force.
However, the delay in Meghalaya’s part is evident on ground zero. Singh said the rescue team found the water level too high for diving even on the first day. “The state government tried using low-capacity pumps to suck out the water, but to no avail. A request for high-powered pumps was sent to the center on December 18,” he added.
The team of experts from Coal India has already completed an initial survey to formulate a plan aimed at scaling up rescue operations once they resume today. “We received the request from the government just the day before yesterday, on December 26. If there’s no proper planning, it becomes difficult to assess the ground situation,” said J Borah, Managing Director, North Eastern Coalfields, Coal India Limited.
Although the district deputy commissioner had sent an urgent request for high-capacity pumps on December 20, the request was allegedly processed by the state government only after a week. And even now, 16 days later, life-saving equipment is many crucial hours away.