Indian tunnel collapse: Rescuers rescue 41 trapped workers from tunnel in northern India

Uttarakhand District Information/Reuters

One of the rescued workers (center) is pictured after leaving the tunnel.

New Delhi, India

Sears welcomed a team of 41 workers who were successfully extricated Tuesday from a collapsed tunnel beneath the Himalayas, the culmination of a 17-day rescue operation to drill through rock and debris.

It took weeks for workers to drill an escape route through the mountain, drilling the last two meters by hand before the rescued men eventually emerged.

Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters

The workers, who were trapped in the Silkyara tunnel since November 12, were rescued on Tuesday.

Video footage from the scene showed Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Thami meeting workers who appeared to be in good health amid jubilant scenes as he emerged from the tunnel.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the successful rescue was “emotional for everyone”. In a report on X.

“I want to tell the men trapped in the tunnel that your bravery and patience is an inspiration to all,” he wrote.

“I salute the spirit of all the people involved in this rescue operation. Their bravery and determination has given new life to our toiling brothers. Everyone involved in this mission has set a wonderful example of humanity and teamwork,” Modi said.

The men were trapped since November 12 when they were working on the construction of the tunnel. India’s Northern Uttarakhand state led the way, blocking their only exit with 60 meters (200 ft) of broken rock, concrete and twisted metal.

The first workers were evacuated after a series of painful setbacks, during which rescue efforts were halted, during which the heavy machinery used to drill through the debris broke down, forcing workers to dig partially by hand and adopt other dangerous methods to bring them to safety.

Engineers had earlier tried using heavy machinery to dig out the debris in the exit shafts, but were forced to abandon efforts late on Friday after the powerful American drill they were using broke just meters from the trapped people.

Rescue workers were simultaneously drilling down through the unstable mountainside as a backtrack to reach the trapped men. But in the end the initial plan succeeded.

After drilling, rescue crews pushed a large pipe through the last part of the exit shaft and brought the men to safety.

Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters

Ambulances wait in line near an operation to free trapped workers in Uttarakhand, India on November 28, 2023.

The workers — all migrant workers from some of India’s poorest states — are receiving food, water and oxygen through a 53-meter (173-foot) tube inserted through the garbage, and officials say they are in good health.

Doctors on site keep in touch with the men inside and offer tips on how to stay positive and calm. Their families gather at the subway exit every day to pray for their safe return.

The tunnel is part of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Sar Dham Expressway, a controversial multi-million dollar project to upgrade it. Improving the country’s transport network and connectivity to important Hindu pilgrimage sites in the region.

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