Rescuers reach 41 men trapped in Indian tunnel

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.

Publication: 28.11.2023 - 15:16
Rescuers reach 41 men trapped in Indian tunnel
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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 four 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 three to five 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 Nov. 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."

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