All 41 workers trapped in a tunnel in India for 17 days have been rescued alive.
On Tuesday, Nov. 28, rescuers pulled out all 41 workers trapped for 17 days inside a collapsed tunnel in the Himalayas after drilling through the debris of rock, concrete and earth to reach them.
The evacuation of the men began more than six hours after rescuers broke through the debris in the tunnel in Uttarakhand state, which caved in on Nov. 12.
They were pulled out on wheeled stretchers through a 90 cm (3 feet) wide steel pipe, with the entire process being completed in about an hour.
“Their condition is first-class and absolutely fine … just like yours or mine. There is no tension about their health,” said Wakil Hassan, a rescue team leader.
The first to be evacuated, a short man wearing a dark grey winter jacket and a yellow hard hat, was garlanded with marigold flowers and welcomed in traditional Indian style inside the tunnel by state chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami and federal deputy highways minister V.K. Singh.
Some walked out smiling and were hugged by Dhami, while others made gestures of thanks with clasped hands or sought blessings by touching his feet. All were garlanded and also presented with a white fabric stolen by Dhami and Singh.
“I want to say to the friends who were trapped in the tunnel that your courage and patience is inspiring everyone,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi posted on social media platform X.
“The patience and courage that all these families have shown in this challenging time cannot be appreciated enough.”
Modi later spoke to the rescued men by phone and enquired about their condition, TV channels reported.
Federal Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari thanked rescue workers and said a safety audit of the tunnel would now be done.
Ambulances that had lined up with lights flashing at the mouth of the tunnel transported the workers to a hospital about 30 km (18 miles) away. They are expected to travel to their home states after doctors clear them.
“We are happy and feel relieved. I have told everyone in the family that he has come out,” said Rajni Tudu, whose husband Surendra was among the trapped men.
Local residents gathered outside the tunnel set off firecrackers, distributed sweets and shouted slogans hailing Mother India.
After the rescue, there was jubilation around the country on Tuesday, with politicians, retired cricket players, business leaders, diplomats and spiritual leaders hailing the effort.
“The safety of our labourer brothers who are building India is of paramount importance. I salute all the brave men who made this difficult campaign successful,” opposition leader Rahul Gandhi posted on X.
Billionaire Anand Mahindra, chairman of conglomerate Mahindra Group, said “After all the sophisticated drilling equipment, it’s the humble ‘rat-hole miners’ who make the vital breakthrough!”
“It’s a heartwarming reminder that at the end of the day, heroism is most often a case of individual effort & sacrifice,” he posted on X.
The 41 men 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.