A team of rescue personnel from the Odisha Fire Services left for Meghalaya on Friday morning with high-powered pumps to help find 15 people trapped for over two weeks in a mine in Meghalaya, PTI reported. Indian Navy divers were also airlifted from Visakhapatnamm the news agency added. The pumps are expected to reach Meghalaya by Friday evening.
The miners have been trapped in the illegal rat-hole mine in East Jaintia Hills district since December 13 after it got flooded by water from a nearby river. The mine is filled with 70 feet of water, making it inaccessible to the rescue workers.
The National Disaster Response Force’s efforts to rescue them have been marred by the lack of effective equipment. The commandant leading the rescue operations had told Scroll.in that they require at least 10 pumps of 100 horsepower each to pump out the water.
SK Singh, an assistant commandant at the National Disaster Response Force, said Coal India officials visited the site during the day to assess the situation, ANI reported. “Presently, the situation is bit hopeful,” he added. “High-pressure pumps are arriving. The pumps that were used earlier were not working well. We hope the water will recede till then.”
BK Sharma, the director general of fire services, commandant general (home guards) and director of civil defence, said the 20-member team was led by Chief Fire Officer Sukanta Sethi. They left in a special aircraft of the Indian Air Force with 20 high-powered pumps, according to the Hindustan Times. “Each of the pumps can dewater 1,600 litres of water a minute and we hope the miners can be rescued,” he said. “We are one of the few states that is experienced in handling such calamities. We could have gone much earlier, but the request from MHA [Ministry of Home Affairs] came yesterday [Thursday].”
The aircraft landed at the Guwahati airport around noon, NDTV reported. The pumps, supplied by Coal India, will now be transported to the site in Meghalaya by road.
Divers of the National Disaster Response Force attempting to rescue the miners said on Wednesday that a “foul odour” was emanating from the mine. This could either indicate that the miners are dead and the bodies are beginning to decompose, or because of the fact that pumping has stopped since Monday and water is stagnating.
The Congress has criticised the state government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of not moving fast enough to help the trapped miners. On Wednesday, Congress President Rahul Gandhi said Modi was “posing for cameras” on Bogibeel Bridge while the miners were struggling to breathe.
Rat-hole mining of coal – a technique that entails digging small vertical pits to reach the mineral and carving narrow sideways tunnels to move it underground – was banned in Meghalaya in 2014 by the National Green Tribunal as it did not follow regulations. But activists allege coal continues to be mined illegally and this incident appears to be proof of that.