The men became trapped after a portion of the 4.5-kilometer (2.8-mile) tunnel, which was under construction in the mountainous vicinity of the Himalayas, caved in on itself after a landslide. The tunnel collapsed around 200 meters (656 ft.) from its entrance.

Construction of the tunnel is part of the Chardham all-weather road, a flagship project of the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that aims to connect Hindu pilgrimage sites, so that the state can better accommodate the growing influx of pilgrims and tourists to the region.

The workers trapped in a collapsed tunnel in northern India for over a week are getting their first hot meals on Tuesday through a new six-inch wide steel pipe as rescuers pursue an alternative plan to free them. “We will bring you out safely, do not worry,” rescuers told the men, according to translations by Al Jazeera.

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Indian rescuers have drilled two-thirds of the way through debris toward 41 workers trapped in a collapsed road tunnel, officials said Wednesday, warning that the next 24 hours could be critical.

Engineers are working to drive a steel pipe through at least 57 metres (187 feet) of the tonnes of earth, concrete, and rubble that has divided the trapped men from freedom since a portion of the under-construction tunnel in the northern Himalayan state of Uttarakhand collapsed 11 days ago.

Looking into the Silkyara tunnel entrance on Wednesday, an AFP journalist could see sparks flying as workers welded metal tube sections together, with the site busy as excavators and heavy trucks brought in equipment.

“I am very happy to share… that 39 metres of drilling have been completed,” said Mahmood Ahmad, a road and highways ministry official involved in the operations.

“If there is no blockage, we hope there could be happy news late tonight or tomorrow,” Ahmad told reporters at the site.

“We are moving forward at a fast pace,” he added.