All 41 Indian Workers Trapped In Tunnel For 17 Days Rescued

After a marathon 17-day engineering operation, Indian workers were greeted with wild celebrations and flower garlands Tuesday when rescuers safely extracted all 41 from the collapsed Himalayan road tunnel where they were trapped.

The rescued guys were acclaimed as heroes after being pulled through 57 meters (187 feet) of steel pipe on stretchers specially modified with wheels, where they were greeted by state officials before embracing their families, with glowing smiles.

Crowds outside the tunnel chanted, “Hail mother India!” as word spread that everyone had made it safely out of the under-construction tunnel in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, where they had been held since a partial collapse on November 12.

Relatives outside rejoiced after previous attempts to reach the soldiers were thwarted by falling rubble and the malfunction of multiple drilling rigs during a rescue operation described by the authorities as taking place in “challenging Himalayan terrain.”

“We are thankful to God and the rescuers who worked hard to save them,” Naiyer Ahmad told AFP, whose younger brother Sabah Ahmad was among the trapped workers, and who had been camping out in bitterly cold temperatures at the site for over two weeks.

“We are extremely happy, no words can explain it,” said Musarrat Jahan, the wife of one rescued worker Sabah Ahmad told AFP by phone from Bihar state, where she had been waiting desperately for news.

“Not only my husband got a new life, we also got a new life. We will never forget it”.

National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) personnel along with other rescue operatives gather near the face of the collapsed under construction Silkyara tunnel in the Uttarkashi district of India’s Uttarakhand state, on November 28, 2023. (Photo by Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP)


 ‘Now to Celebrate’ 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the workers in a statement that their “courage and patience is inspiring everyone”.

“Patience, hard work and faith won”, said Uttarakhand state chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami, praising the “prayers of tens of millions of countrymen and the tireless work of all the rescue teams.”

The health of the workers was “fine”, with a team of medics in a field hospital assessing them as soon as they were brought out, Dhami added.

Guriya Devi, wife of rescued worker Sushil Kumar, said she had been praying ever since the tunnel collapsed.

“We passed through horrible times, and sometimes we lost hope — but ultimately the time has come to now celebrate”.

Munnilal Kishku, the father of liberated worker Birendar Kishku, stated that they did not celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, because it coincided with the tunnel collapse. “We will celebrate it when he reaches the village,” he went on to say.

Following a series of setbacks, military engineers and professional miners dug the final stretch by hand using a so-called “rat-hole” technique, in which a three-person crew worked at the rock face within a metal conduit barely wide enough for someone to squeeze through.

Ambulance and emergency vehicles are on standby near the face of the collapsed under construction Silkyara tunnel in the Uttarkashi district of India’s Uttarakhand state, on November 28, 2023. (Photo by Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP)

 ‘Effort and Sacrifice’

Indian billionaire Anand Mahindra paid tribute to the men at the rock face who squeezed into the narrow pipe to clear the rocks by hand.

“After all the sophisticated drilling equipment, it’s the humble ‘rathole miners’ who make the vital breakthrough,” Mahindra said on X, formerly Twitter.

“It’s a heartwarming reminder that at the end of the day, heroism is most often a case of individual effort and sacrifice.”

Last week, engineers attempting to drive a horizontal metal pipe through the dirt collided with metal girders and construction vehicles trapped in the rubble, shattering a massive earth-boring equipment.

A separate vertical shaft was also begun from the forested slope above the tunnel, as well as from the far side of the road tunnel, a considerably longer path estimated to be roughly 480 meters long.

The workers were last seen alive last week, staring into the lens of an endoscopic camera sent down a narrow pipe via which air, food, water, and electricity were provided.

Arnold Dix, president of the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association, who had been advising the engineers, told reporters before the rescue that the guys were in excellent spirits and had been “playing cricket.”

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