New setbacks in search for Spanish toddler Julen Rosello

Officers stand guard at the site where Julen Rosello fell down a well in Totalan, southern Spain. PHOTO: AFP

TOTALAN, Spain (AFP) - The search for a toddler who fell down a Spanish well nine days ago hit a fresh setback on Tuesday (Jan 22), complicating a difficult rescue operation which has had the country on tenterhooks.

Two-year-old Julen Rosello fell down the narrow shaft on Jan 13, as he was playing while his parents prepared a picnic in Totalan, a southern town near Malaga.

There has been no contact with the toddler since but rescuers think they know where he is inside the 100m shaft and have been working round the clock to get there.

"We continue to work without rest and feel that we are always getting closer to Julen," engineer Angel Garcia Vidal, coordinator of the operations, told journalists on Tuesday evening.

He added that they hoped the rescue operation "would come to a successful conclusion very quickly", without giving a specific time.

Although workers had been hoping for a breakthrough in rescue efforts on Tuesday, the operation hit a fresh technical hitch, further delaying the rescue.

The unprecedented rescue operation has been fraught with complications, but rescuers remain determined.

"Those who are here risking their lives have faith that he is alive and that we will pull him out alive," Bernardo Molto, spokesman for the Civil Guard police force in Malaga province, told AFP.

"If not, they wouldn't be working in these conditions."

The well is blocked by a layer of earth, sand and stones believed to have been dislodged when the toddler fell into the shaft.

An initial plan to reach him with an angled tunnel was abandoned because of repeated collapses and landslides, so rescuers began digging a vertical shaft parallel to the well, 60m deep, which was finished late on Monday.

The idea was to secure the shaft with tubes then take miners down in a specially made cage to start digging a horizontal tunnel to the site where they believe the child is.

But the tubes designed to secure the shaft didn't fit.

"There were technical problems involved in putting tubes in the shaft beyond a depth of 40m," said a government spokesman in Malaga.

He explained that drilling work was under way to expand the hole, but added that "we're not able to give an estimate of the time it will take."

The tubes will then have to be placed down the shaft to secure it before miners can descend with handpicks to dig through the four metres separating them from the well where the boy is stuck - in a process expected to take 24 hours.

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