March 4, 2024

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All the trapped Indian workers have been rescued from a Himalayan tunnel, officials said

All the trapped Indian workers have been rescued from a Himalayan tunnel, officials said

SILKYARA, India (Reuters) – Indian rescuers on Tuesday recovered all 41 construction workers trapped for 17 days inside a collapsed tunnel in the Himalayas after hours of digging through debris of rock, concrete and dirt to reach them.

The evacuation of the men, low-paid workers from some of India’s poorest states, began more than six hours after rescuers sifted through the wreckage of the tunnel in Uttarakhand state, which collapsed on November 12.

They were pulled on wheeled stretchers through a 90cm (3ft) wide steel pipe, and the whole process was completed in about an hour.

Wakil Hassan, leader of the rescue team, said: “Their condition is first-class and completely fine… just like your condition or mine. There is no tension regarding their health.”

The first evacuee, a short man wearing a dark gray winter jacket and a yellow hard hat, was decorated with marigolds and was welcomed in traditional Indian style inside the tunnel by state Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami and Deputy Federal Highways Minister VK Singh. .

Some came out smiling and hugged by Dhami, while others made thank-you gestures with clasped hands or asked for blessings by touching his feet. They were all decorated with a garland and were also presented with a white cloth stolen by Dhami and Singh.

“I want to say to the friends who were trapped in the tunnel that your courage and patience inspire everyone,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on the social media platform X.

“It is a great relief that after a long wait, our friends will now be reunited with their loved ones. The patience and courage shown by all these families at this difficult time cannot be appreciated enough.”

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Federal Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari thanked the rescuers and said in a post on X that “a safety audit of the tunnel will now also be conducted.”

Rescue snatched up by “rat miners”

Ambulances lined up with their lights on at the entrance to the tunnel transported the workers to a hospital about 30 kilometers away.

Local residents gathered outside the tunnel, lit fireworks, distributed sweets and chanted slogans praising Mother India.

The 41 men were receiving food, water, light, oxygen and medicine through a tube, but efforts to dig a tunnel to rescue them with high-powered drilling machines failed due to a series of obstacles.

Government agencies managing the unprecedented crisis on Monday turned to “rat miners” to manually excavate rocks and gravel from inside an evacuation pipe that had been pushed through the debris after machinery broke down.

Miners are experts in a primitive, dangerous and controversial method often used to access coal deposits through narrow passages, and they get their name because they resemble burrowing mice.

The miners, brought in from central India, worked through the night on Monday, finally breaking through an estimated 60 meters of rock, soil and minerals on Tuesday afternoon.

The tunnel is part of the $1.5 billion Char Dham Expressway, one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s most ambitious projects, which aims to connect four Hindu pilgrimage sites through an 890-kilometre road network.

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The authorities did not mention the cause of the collapse, but the area is vulnerable to landslides, earthquakes and floods.

Writing by YP Rajesh. Edited by Angus MacSwan, John Boyle and Alex Richardson

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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