UTTARKASHI, NOVEMBER 28: The first of the 41 workers trapped in Uttarakand’s Silkyara tunnel was brought out Tuesday evening, ending an ordeal that stretched almost 17 days, reports PTI.
Around 8 p.m., an ambulance with the worker sitting in the vehicle left the mouth of the tunnel and was headed to a community health centre.
An official said rescue workers had broken through the last stretch of the rubble at about 7 p.m.
NDRF and SDRF men entered the steel chute to reach the trapped workers and were bringing them out on wheeled-stretchers one by one, said a rescuer.
Indian rescuers broke through rocks and debris on Tuesday to reach 41 construction workers trapped in a collapsed tunnel in the Himalayas for 17 days, reports Reuters.
The process of pulling out the 41 labourers, one at a time on wheeled stretchers through a narrow pipe 90 cm (3 feet) wide, was due to begin soon, officials said.
Three teams, each of 4 rescuers, would first enter the area where the men are trapped to prepare them to be pulled, said Syed Ata Hasnain, a member of the National Disaster Management Authority that is overseeing rescue efforts.
“We have been involved in this for more than 400 hours and are taking all safety precautions until the end”, he told Reporters in New Delhi, adding it would take 3 to 5 minutes to remove each of the 41 trapped labourers.
The men, low-wage workers from India’s poorest State, have been stuck in the 4.5 km (3 mile) tunnel in Uttarakhand state, in northern India, since it collapsed on November 12.
They have been getting food, water, light, oxygen and medicines through a pipe but efforts to dig a tunnel to rescue them with high-powered drilling machines were frustrated by a series of snags.
Government agencies managing the unprecedented crisis turned on Monday to “rat miners” to drill through the rocks and gravel by hand from inside a 90 cm (3 feet) wide evacuation pipe pushed through the debris after machinery failed.
The miners are experts at a primitive, hazardous and controversial method used mostly to get at coal deposits through narrow passages and get their name because they resemble burrowing rats.
The miners, brought from central India, worked through Monday night and finally broke through the estimated 60-metres of rocks, earth and metal on Tuesday afternoon.
“Work of laying pipes in the tunnel to take out workers has been completed”, Uttarakhand State Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said on the X social media platform, thanking the Hindu deity, Baba Baukh Nag Ji, as well as the millions of Indian who prayed for the men and the tireless rescuers.
“Soon, all the labourer brothers will be taken out.”
Prez, PM, political leaders hail operation rescuing trapped workers from Uttarakhand tunnel
President Droupadi Murmu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi Tuesday night led the country in hailing the successful operation to rescue 41 workers trapped in Uttarakand’s Silkyara tunnel for almost 17 days, saying it is an emotional moment for everyone.
Murmu said the nation salutes the resilience of the workers and remains grateful to them for building critical infrastructure, even at great personal risk.
“I congratulate the teams and all experts who have acted with incredible grit and determination to perform one of the most difficult rescue missions in history,” she said in a post on X.
Soon after the workers were brought out of the tunnel, Modi saluted the spirit of those involved in the operation and said their courage and resolve have given a new life to them.
“Everyone involved in the mission has created an amazing example of humanity and teamwork,” he said in a post on X.
Wishing the rescued workers good health and well-being, he said their courage and patience inspire everyone.
“It is a matter of great satisfaction that these friends of ours will meet their dear ones after a long wait,” Modi said, asserting that the patience and courage of their family members cannot be praised enough.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah said this was great news for the nation and said it salutes the grit of the workers in facing such a challenging situation for so long.
He also expressed his gratitude to all the people and the agencies that made tireless efforts to save the lives.
Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari said he is “relieved and happy” as all the trapped workers have been rescued.
“This was a well-coordinated effort by multiple agencies, marking one of the most significant rescue operations in recent years. Various departments and agencies complemented each other despite facing numerous challenges,” he said.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge Kharge said it is a matter of great relief and joy for everyone that the workers were brought out of the tunnel safely.
He urged the government to provide prompt health benefits and an appropriate compensation to the workers and demanded that a safety audit be conducted of all under-construction schemes so that a similar situation does not arise again.
Party general secretary Jairam Ramesh lauded the resilience and fortitude of the labourers.
Thanking Modi for providing constant support during the rescue efforts, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said no worker is critical but all of them will be kept under medical observation before being sent home.
He said evacuation began with the youngest of workers. They were all fit and crawled out of the passage on their own, he said.
Dhami also said Rs 1 lakh will be given to each rescued worker.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath thanked “everyone who made their invaluable contribution” in saving the lives of the workers.
The tunnel is part of the $1.5 billion Char Dham highway, one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s most ambitious projects, aimed at connecting 4 Hindu pilgrimage sites through an 890- km network of roads.
Authorities have not said what caused the cave-in but the region is prone to landslides, earthquakes and floods.
The tunnel did not have an emergency exit and was built through a geological fault, a member of a panel of experts investigating the disaster has told Reuters.
The Char Dham project has faced criticism from environmental experts and some work was halted after hundreds of houses were damaged by subsidence along the route.
The Government has said it employed environmentally sound techniques to make geologically unstable stretches safer.
It also ordered the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to audit 29 tunnels being built across India.
(Courtesy: TS & PTI)