Epic rescue operation: 17 days of anguish for trapped workers
In India, a remarkable rescue mission has taken place, as 41 trapped workers have been successfully rescued after being trapped for 17 days in a road tunnel. The rescuers manually removed the last few meters of debris before proceeding with the extraction. The workers became trapped on November 12th when a section of the under-construction Silkyara tunnel collapsed due to a landslide. The Transport Minister, Nitin Gadkari, expressed relief and happiness, describing the operation as one of the most significant in years.
After being trapped for over 400 hours, they began to be extracted on Tuesday night through an escape tube, after manually drilling through the remaining debris. The dramatic scenes of the men being carried out on stretchers came after more than 400 hours of operation, with multiple obstacles and false promises of imminent rescue. The first man was brought out on Tuesday around 8:00 PM, with ambulances and helicopters waiting to transport them to a nearby hospital.
The workers became trapped after a suspicious landslide occurred in the early hours of November 12th, causing part of the tunnel roof to collapse, blocking it under 60 meters of dense cement, rock, and twisted metal debris. A major rescue operation began, with an increasing number of rescue teams arriving at the location in the state of Uttarakhand to attempt to penetrate the blockage. The number of rescuers grew to over 200, and the army and air force, along with the national disaster management team and foreign experts, joined in. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was briefed daily on the progress.
The workers were supplied with oxygen, food, water, and medicine through a small water tube, and constant contact was maintained with them for 17 days. A dozen doctors and psychiatrists were brought to the site to monitor their health. According to authorities, the men remained in good spirits and even practiced yoga and played cricket to entertain themselves.
Towards the end of last week, a drilling machine managed to penetrate nearly 50 meters of debris, announcing a rescue “in a few hours”. However, the blade broke at 12 meters, requiring a new strategy. On Sunday, a high-risk vertical drilling began, and on Tuesday, specialists manually drilled the last 12 meters. An “escape passage” tube was inserted, allowing the rescuers to reach the trapped workers.
The tunnel is part of the $1.5 billion Char Dham highway project, an ambitious initiative by Modi to connect four Hindu pilgrimage sites through a network of 550-mile roads. However, the project has faced criticism from environmental experts, who argue that it could cause subsidence and disturbances in the fragile Himalayan region, which already experiences landslides and earthquakes. After the disaster, a group of experts pointed out that the Silkyara-Barkot tunnel lacked an emergency exit and was built over a geological fault. The National Highways Authority of India has been tasked with inspecting 29 other tunnels under construction across the country.