Rescuers Near Breakthrough in Effort to Reach 41 Workers Trapped in Indian Tunnel

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An ambulance waits to carry workers from the site of an under-construction road tunnel that collapsed in Silkyara in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, India, Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023. Officials in India said Tuesday they were on the verge of rescuing the 41 construction workers trapped in a collapsed mountain tunnel for over two weeks in the country's north, after rescuers drilled their way through debris to reach them. (AP Photo)

After over two weeks, rescuers in India are nearing a breakthrough in the operation to save 41 construction workers trapped in a collapsed tunnel in the Himalayas. The rescue team, manually drilling through the rubble, is reportedly just 2 meters away from reaching the trapped men, as per officials overseeing the operation. The laborers have been stuck since November 12, when a landslide caused the tunnel to collapse.

Final Stages of Rescue Operation

Syed Ata Hasnain, a member of the National Disaster Management Authority, informed reporters that the rescuers were “near breakthrough but not yet there,” expecting the operation to take the entire night. The team has resorted to manual digging after a mechanical drill broke down last week. Using hand drills and pulleys, the experts have been working to penetrate the last 12 meters of rubble that blocked the tunnel entrance.

‘Rat miners’ about to begin manual drilling during the rescue operation. Photograph: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters

The Rescue Method

The rescuers have managed to drill through more than 58 meters (190 feet) of debris so far. They have inserted a 90cm rescue pipe into the tunnel, through which the laborers will be brought out one by one on stretchers. This meticulous process is expected to take a few hours.

Challenges Faced

The operation, initially expected to take a few days, turned into weeks due to multiple complications, including the challenging terrain and breakdown of machinery. Arnold Dix, the president of the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association and an advisor on the rescue, said, “The drilling on top of the mountain is coming along perfectly, in the tunnel, it’s coming along very well. I have never said ‘I feel good’ before.”

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

Support for Trapped Workers

Throughout their ordeal, the trapped workers have been receiving food, water, light, oxygen, and medicines through a pipe. More than a dozen doctors, including psychiatrists, have been at the site, monitoring their health and advising them to engage in light exercises and communication to maintain their spirits.

Anxiety and Hope Among Families

Families of the trapped workers, many of whom are migrant laborers from across the country, have been camping near the site, anxiously awaiting updates. “As he comes out, my heart will revive again,” said the father of one of the trapped workers.

Background of the Tunnel Project

The tunnel is part of the Chardham all-weather road, a flagship initiative of the Indian government aimed at connecting various Hindu pilgrimage sites. However, some experts have criticized the project, citing environmental concerns and its construction through geologically unstable areas.