Rescuers reach 41 workers trapped in Indian tunnel

Saurabh Sharma |

Rescuers have successfully drilled through debris to reach 41 workers trapped for 17 days in a collapsed tunnel in the Indian Himalayas and are set to pull them out to safety, an official says,

The men, ow-wage workers from India’s poorest states, have been stuck in the 4.5km tunnel in the mountainous state of Uttarakhand since it caved in early on November 12.

So-called rat miners were brought in on Monday to drill through the rocks and gravel by hand from inside a 900-millimetre wide evacuation pipe that was pushed through the debris after machinery failed.

Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami told reporters earlier that good progress was being made, after running into metal obstacles, and large chunks of concrete.

The men have been getting food, water, light, oxygen and medicines through a pipe but efforts to dig a tunnel to reach and rescue them with drilling machines have been frustrated by a series of snags.

Rescuers on Monday brought in the “rat miners”, experts at a primitive, hazardous and controversial method used mostly to get at coal deposits through narrow passages.

A small group of local women sang Hindu devotional songs outside the tunnel, praying for the rescue to succeed.

Relatives of some of the 41 men who have been camping near the site have been told to keep the clothes and bags of workers ready to accompany them to a hospital about 30 km away after they are brought out, one official said.

The tunnel is part of the $1.5 billion Char Dham highway, one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s most ambitious projects, aimed at connecting four Hindu pilgrimage sites through an 890- km network of roads.

Authorities have not said what caused the cave-in but the region is prone to landslides, earthquakes and floods.