All 41 Indian workers rescued from tunnel after 17 days

Published November 29, 2023
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami greets a worker following his rescue from inside the under-construction tunnel.—AFP
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami greets a worker following his rescue from inside the under-construction tunnel.—AFP

SILKYARA: Indian workers were greeted with wild cheers and flower garlands on Tuesday as rescuers safely brought out all 41 from the collapsed Himalayan road tunnel where they were trapped after a marathon 17-day engineering operation.

With beaming smiles, the rescued men were welcomed as heroes after being hauled through 57 metres of steel pipe on stretchers specially fitted with wheels, where they were greeted by state officials before embracing their families.

“Hail mother India!” crowds outside the tunnel cheered, as news spread that all had made it safely out of the under-construction tunnel in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, where they had been incarcerated since a partial collapse on November 12.

Relatives outside celebrated, after previous hopes of reaching the men were repeatedly dashed by falling debris and the breakdown of multiple drilling machines, in a rescue operation the government said took place in “challenging Himalayan terrain”.

“We are thankful to God and the rescuers who worked hard to save them,” Naiyer Ahmad said, 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 said 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”.

‘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, father of freed worker Birendar Kishku, said they had not celebrated Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, because it had happened the same time as the tunnel collapsed. “We will celebrate it when he reaches the village,” he said.

After repeated setbacks in the operation, military engineers and skilled miners dug the final section by hand using a so-called “rat-hole” technique, a three-person team working at the rock face inside a metal pipe, just wide enough for someone to squeeze through.

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.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2023

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