All 41 workers rescued from tunnel after 17 days
ALL 41 construction workers who were trapped in a collapsed mountain tunnel in northern India for more than two weeks were pulled out on Tuesday, bringing an end to a drawn-out rescue mission that had grabbed the country’s attention for days.
A crowd of local residents gathered around the tunnel erupted in joy and shouted slogans of “Bharat Mata ki Jai”, or “Long live mother India,” and set off firecrackers in celebration. Officials presented the first rescued workers with garlands made of flowers, hanging them around their necks as the crowd cheered.
Nitin Gadkari, the minister of road transport and highways, said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he was “completely relieved and happy” after all workers were rescued from the Silkyara Tunnel in Uttarkashi following an ordeal that lasted 17 days.
“I am very happy that all the 41 trapped workers have come out and their lives have been saved,” he said in a video message posted on X. Gadkari added that “this was a well-coordinated effort by multiple agencies, marking one of the most significant rescue operations in recent years.”
The workers were pulled out through a passageway made of welded pipes that rescuers previously pushed through dirt and rocks. They will each have an initial health checkup at a temporary medical camp set up inside the 13-metre (42.6 feet) wide tunnel.
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 many on edge. The workers got trapped on Nov. 12, when a landslide caused a portion of the 4.5-kilometer (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.
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 handheld drilling tools and clearing out the muck in what he said was the final stretch of the rescue operation.
Most of the trapped workers are migrant laborers from across the country. Many of their families have travelled to the location, where they have camped out for days to get updates on the rescue effort and in hopes of seeing their relatives soon.