India tunnel collapse: All 41 workers rescued after 17 days

SILKYARA, India – Indian rescuers have safely brought out all 41 workers from a collapsed Himalayan road tunnel after a marathon 17-day engineering operation to free them, a minister has said.

“I am completely relieved and happy as 41 trapped labourers in the Silkyara Tunnel Collapse have been successfully rescued,” Minister of Road Transport Nitin Gadkari said in a statement on Nov 28.

“This was a well-coordinated effort by multiple agencies, marking one of the most significant rescue operations in recent years.”

The men, low-wage workers from India’s poorest state, had been stuck in the 4.5km tunnel in Uttarakhand state in northern India since it collapsed on Nov 12.

They had 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 Nov 27 to “rat miners” to drill through the rock and gravel by hand from inside a 90cm-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. They get their name from their resemblance to burrowing rats.

The miners, brought from central India, worked through the night of Nov 27 and finally broke through the estimated 60m of rock, earth and metal on the afternoon of Nov 28. REUTERS, AFP

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