Indian rescuers reach 41 workers trapped in a collapsed tunnel for 17 days, start pulling them out
UTTARKASHI, India (AP) — Cheers and jubilation erupted as rescuers in India on Tuesday reached 41 construction workers who were trapped in a collapsed mountain tunnel for over two weeks in the country’s north and started pulling them out, officials said.
After less than an hour, Kirti Panwar, a government spokesperson, said 34 workers had been rescued so far. “All are safe and sound,” he said.
The workers were being pulled out through a passageway made of welded pipes which rescuers previously pushed through dirt and rocks. They will each go through an initial health checkup at a temporary medical camp set up inside the 13-metre (42.6 feet) wide tunnel.
As the first worker was pulled out, Pushkar Singh Dhami, the top elected official in the state of Uttarakhand, presented him with a garland and hung it around his neck as rescuers, other officials and relatives cheered.
A crowd of locals shouted slogans of “Bharat Mata ki Jai,” or “Long live mother India,” and set off firecrackers.
One of the rescuers, Devender, 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.”
The massive rescue mission had grabbed the country’s attention for the past weeks. The workers got trapped on November 12, when a landslide caused a portion of the 4.5-kilometre (2.8-mile) tunnel they were building in Uttarakhand state to collapse about 200 metres (650 feet) from the entrance.
They survived on food and oxygen supplied through narrow steel pipes.
“Soon all the labourer brothers will be taken out,” Pushkar Singh Dhami, top official in Uttarakhand, had posted on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, earlier on Tuesday, when there were only a few feet remaining to be dug out.
Kirti Panwar, a state government spokesperson, said about a dozen men had worked overnight to manually dig through rocks and debris, taking turns to drill using hand-held drilling tools and clearing out the muck in what he said was the final stretch of the rescue operation.
Rescuers resorted to manual digging after the drilling machine broke down on Friday while drilling horizontally from the front because of the mountainous terrain of Uttarakhand. The machine bored through about 47 metres (nearly 154 feet) out of approximately the 57-60 metres (nearly 187-196 feet) needed, before rescuers started to work by hand to create a passageway to evacuate the trapped workers.