Sixteen workers and 18 ponies stranded near Sonmarg due to heavy snowfall were rescued by an expert team of an engineering company involved in construction of the Zojila tunnel project in Kashmir.
The upper reaches of the Jammu and Kashmir region received the highest snowfall in 35 years on October 23-24. The area received about 12 inches of snow.
In the sudden snowfall, 16 workers and 18 ponies were stranded in Domail village, 16 kilometres from Sonamarg. The district administration sent out an SOS message to Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Limited (MEIL), which is executing the Zojila tunnel in the area.
MEIL's camp office is 2 km from Domail.
Responding to the SOS, MEIL deployed an experienced six-member rescue team to conduct rescue operations. The stranded 16 engineers and workers had travelled on ponies to execute electricity works on the route to the Amarnath cave.
MEIL's rescue team cleared the snow with the help of an JCB Dozer. Four drive vehicles were deployed to carry out the rescue operation, which began at 1 pm on Sunday and ended at 6 pm the same day.
According to MEIL, the rescue team responded immediately to the SOS message from the district administration and deployed the safety team and required machinery for the job.
While rescue operations were in progress, food, including firewood, was given to the stranded group. Besides saving the lives of the 16 workers, MEIL's rescue team also saved the lives of 18 ponies.
The Sonmarg-Baltal, primarily close to Zojila pass area, has not witnessed such heavy snowfall after 1986. The Sonmarg-Baltal road was closed on October 23-24 due to heavy snowfall, and is now reopened.
Situated under the Zojila Pass on NH-1, the tunnel is 14.15-km-long and located at an altitude of about 3,000 metres above sea level.
The deadline for the fulfilment of the Zojila tunnel project, which had earlier been set for 2026, has been moved up by nearly three years to 2023.
Upon completion, the Zojila tunnel will be India’s longest road tunnel as well as the world's highest tunnel, according to the government.
The tunnel will connect Srinagar and Leh through Dras and Kargil. The passage will begin at Sonmarg in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, and terminate at Minamarg, in the Union Territory of Ladakh.
The roadway is being constructed at one of the most dangerous motorable stretches in the world, at a location of great geo-strategic sensitivity.
Arun Kumar Das is a senior journalist covering railways. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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