Rescuers on Saturday dug to within a few meters of reaching a young boy who has been trapped for five days in a well in northern Morocco, a delicate and dangerous operation constantly delayed by rocks and imperiled by the threat of landslides.
Workers with mechanical diggers have been trying round the clock to rescue the five-year-old child, Rayan Awram, after he fell into a 32-metre (100-foot) deep well in the hills near Chefchaouen on Tuesday.
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“We have two meters more to dig to reach Rayan and we hope we will not encounter rocks,” lead rescuer Thamrani Abdelhadi told reporters at the site on Saturday afternoon.
He said it was difficult to determine the child's health condition because a camera that has been dropped down the well shows him lying on his side, but he added “we hope we will rescue him alive.”
It was also unclear how long the digging will take due to difficulties relating to rocks and the danger of landslides, he said.
Pictures on Moroccan media have shown Rayan huddled at the bottom of the disused well, which narrows as it descends from 45 cm (18 inches) wide at the top, preventing rescuers from descending.
Workers in helmets and high-visibility vests carried stretchers, ropes, tackle and other equipment down into a pit they have dug parallel to the well.
On Friday they began carefully excavating a horizontal tunnel towards the child, sometimes being ordered out to stabilize the earth. The work grew more difficult as they encountered rocks between the trench and the well, a witness said.
The rescuers are placing concrete and steel pipes into the horizontal tunnel as they dig to allow them to pull Rayan to safety.
Rescuers have worked with bulldozers to cut a massive trench into the hill next to the well, leaving a gaping hole in the reddish earth. By Saturday morning they were digging horizontally towards the well, and installing PVC tubes to protect against landslides and get the boy out.
“This second rescue step is about to finish ... we are racing to get to Rayan and digging goes as planned,” lead rescuer Abdelhadi Tamrani told state TV 2M early on Saturday.
State news outlet SNRT News quoted a rescuer on Friday as saying the boy was still alive.
The hilly region around Chefchaouen is bitterly cold in winter and though food has been lowered to Rayan, it was not clear whether he has eaten any. He has also been supplied with water and oxygen using a tube.
A local witness told Reuters that horizontal digging was delayed by rocks which complicated manual excavation.
A helicopter was standing by to ferry Rayan to hospital as soon as he is freed on Saturday.