All 41 Workers Rescued from Collapsed Tunnel in Uttarakhand After Over Two Weeks

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People wait on Tuesday in India's northern state of Uttarakhand, where rescue operations were underway to bring out 41 trapped workers after a tunnel collapse. (Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters)

In a remarkable rescue operation, all 41 construction workers trapped for more than two weeks in a collapsed tunnel in Uttarakhand have been safely evacuated. The successful conclusion of this extensive rescue mission was met with cheers, hugs, and smiles, as families and officials expressed immense relief and gratitude.

The Rescue Operation

The operation, described by India’s President Droupadi Murmu as “one of the most difficult rescue missions in history,” ended with the workers being pulled out through a passageway made of welded pipes. The breakthrough came after rescuers, including a team of ‘rat miners’, manually dug through the final stretch of debris. “I feel relieved and happy to learn that all the workers trapped in a tunnel in Uttarakhand have been rescued,” President Murmu stated on the social media platform X.

Rescue teams gather near the face of the collapsed tunnel in Uttarakhand state. Photograph: Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images

Challenges and Efforts

The rescue effort faced multiple challenges due to the mountainous terrain of Uttarakhand and the breakdown of drilling machinery. Rescuers had to resort to manual digging after the drilling machine failed, boring through about 47 meters out of the approximately 57-60 meters needed. Rescue teams inserted pipes into dug-out areas, allowing workers to be brought out on wheeled stretchers.

Conditions of the Trapped Workers

Throughout their ordeal, the trapped workers received food, water, light, oxygen, and medicines through a pipe. Many of them are migrant laborers from across the country, whose families camped near the site, anxiously waiting for updates. More than a dozen doctors, including psychiatrists, were present at the site, monitoring the health of the workers.

In the last few moments, rescuers have pulled two of the 41 trapped workers to the surface.

Broader Context of the Tunnel Project

The tunnel, part of the $1.5-billion Char Dham highway project, aims to connect various Hindu pilgrimage sites through an 890-kilometer network of roads. The region, known for landslides, earthquakes, and floods, has seen increased construction activity in recent years, raising concerns about its environmental impact.

Community and Official Response

As the rescued workers were brought to safety, families and villagers near the site expressed their joy and relief. Jaimal Singh, a relative of one of the trapped workers, shared his optimism with the Press Trust of India, saying, “Even nature looks cheerful today … the weather is good. Let’s hope this ends soon.”