41 workers emerge after 17 days trapped in collapsed Indian road tunnel

29 November 2023, 08:04

India Tunnel rescue
India Tunnel Collapse. Picture: PA

The rescue operation in Uttarakhand state had gripped India.

Forty-one construction workers have emerged dazed and smiling from a collapsed tunnel where they had been trapped for the last 17 days.

It marked a happy ending to an ordeal that had gripped India and involved a massive rescue operation that overcame several setbacks in the northern state of Uttarakhand.

Locals, relatives and government officials erupted in joy, set off firecrackers and shouted: “Bharat Mata ki Jai” – Hindi for: “Long live mother India” – as the workers walked out after being checked over by doctors.

Tunnel rescuers
Rescuers cheered as the workers were brought out safely (Uttarakhand State Department of Information and Public Relations via AP)

Officials hung garlands around their necks as the crowd cheered.

Nitin Gadkari, the country’s minister of road transport and highways, said in a video posted on the social media platform X that he was “completely relieved and happy” that all of the workers were rescued from the Silkyara Tunnel in Uttarkashi.

Mr Gadkari said: “This was a well-coordinated effort by multiple agencies, marking one of the most significant rescue operations in recent years.”

No-one was seriously injured or killed when a landslide caused a section of the 2.8-mile tunnel about 660ft (220 yards) from the entrance to collapse early on the morning of November 12.

The workers were finishing their shifts and many were likely looking forward to celebrating Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, that day.

Collapsed tunnel
The tunnel collapsed in the mountainous Uttarakhand state (AP)

The workers had light in the collapsed tunnel, and since early in their ordeal, they were provided with food, water and oxygen through pipes. More than a dozen doctors, including psychiatrists, were also at the site monitoring their health.

Officials said all 41 workers made it through the ordeal in good health. Before emerging to the cameras and crowds and being whisked away in ambulances, each was given a check-up at a makeshift medical camp in the tunnel entrance.

The rescue was expected to be straightforward and last only a few days, but a series of setbacks led to an expansion, with the workers being trapped for more than two weeks.

During the final stretch, about a dozen rescuers took turns digging through rocks and debris overnight Monday into Tuesday using hand-held drilling tools, said Kirti Panwar, a state government spokesperson.

Rescuers resorted to digging by hand after the machine they had been using broke down Friday. The machine had bored through about 150ft of the roughly 180ft needed to reach the workers.

People look on anxiously
Worried locals watched the rescue work unfold (AP)

The workers were extracted one by one on a wheeled stretcher that was pulled through a roughly 3ft-wide tunnel of welded pipes that crews had pushed through the dug-out space.

Devender, a rescuer who only gave his first name, told the New Delhi Television channel that “the trapped workers were overjoyed when they spotted us in the tunnel. Some rushed toward me and hugged me”.

Most of the workers were migrant laborers from throughout the country, and many of their families travelled to the site and camped out for days in hopes of seeing them rescued.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to some of the rescued workers over the phone and asked about their wellbeing, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

Mr Modi said their courage and patience were an inspiration to everyone, and he wished them good health. The Prime Minister also praised the many people who took part in the rescue.

By Press Association

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