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Uttarakhand tunnel collapse: Rescuers reach Indian construction workers trapped in tunnel for 17 days

Uttarakhand tunnel collapse: Rescuers reach Indian construction workers trapped in tunnel for 17 days

Rescuers in India have reached 41 construction workers who have spent 17 days trapped in a collapsed tunnel.

The rescue team successfully drilled through debris on Tuesday to reach the workers in the Indian Himalayas and were set to pull them out to safety, according to an official.

The process of pulling them out from the under-construction tunnel, one at a time on wheeled stretchers through a pipe 90cm (three feet) wide, would take a couple of hours, officials said.

An evacuation pipe has to be pushed through, and debris cleared before rescue workers can crawl through and begin getting the men out, they said.

Dozens of rescue workers with ropes and ladders were lined up outside the tunnel on Tuesday morning (UK time) and ambulances began arriving to take the 41 men to a hospital about 30 km away.

Ambulances wait in line to enter the tunnel on November 28 (REUTERS)
Ambulances wait in line to enter the tunnel on November 28 (REUTERS)

"Soon all the laborers brothers will be taken out," Pushkar Singh Dhami, top official in Uttarakhand state, posted on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

The men, low-wage workers from India's poorest states, have been stuck in the three-mile tunnel in the mountainous state of Uttarakhand since it caved in early on November 12.

They 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 resorted to manual digging after the drilling machine broke down irreparably on Friday. The machine bored through about 47 metres, of the approximately 57 to60 metres needed, before rescuers started to work by hand to create a passageway to evacuate the trapped workers.

Authorities have been in contact with the trapped workers using walkie talkies.

Kirti Panwar, a state government spokesperson, said on Tuesday about a dozen men had worked overnight to manually dig through rocks and debris, taking turns to drill using hand-held drilling tools and clearing out the muck in what he said was the final stretch of the rescue operation.

An image of the trapped men taken using an endoscopic camera on November 21 (Department of Information and Public Relation (DIPR) Uttarakhand)
An image of the trapped men taken using an endoscopic camera on November 21 (Department of Information and Public Relation (DIPR) Uttarakhand)

Many of the trapped men are from other states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and West Bengal.

Rescuers on Monday brought in "rat miners", to drill through the rocks and gravel by hand from inside a 900-millimetre (3 feet) wide evacuation pipe that has been pushed through the debris after machinery failed.

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

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

This is a breaking news story. More follows