Dramatic rescue of 41 workers in a tunnel: finally freed!
The successful rescue of 41 trapped workers in a road tunnel in India has captivated the world, as the dramatic operation unfolded over the course of 17 days. These brave individuals were trapped underground on November 12th when a section of the under-construction Silkyara tunnel collapsed due to a landslide. It was a race against time to save them, and finally, on Tuesday night, they were extracted through a narrow escape tube after painstakingly removing the last remnants of debris by hand. The scenes of these men being brought out on stretchers were nothing short of awe-inspiring, marking one of the most significant rescue operations in recent memory.
Having been trapped for over 400 hours, the workers began their journey to freedom on Tuesday evening, having manually drilled through the remaining rubble. The operation was fraught with challenges and false promises of imminent rescue, but finally, they saw the light at the end of the tunnel – quite literally. The first man was pulled out at around 8 p.m., with ambulances and helicopters ready to transport them to a nearby hospital.
The collapse occurred after a suspicious landslide in the early hours of November 12th, causing a portion of the tunnel’s roof to cave in, burying it under 60 meters of dense cement, rock, and twisted metal. A massive rescue operation was launched, with an increasing number of rescue teams converging on the site in the Uttarakhand state to try and penetrate the blockade. The number of rescuers swelled to over 200, including the army, air force, national disaster management team, and international experts. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was kept updated on the progress daily.
The trapped workers were provided with oxygen, food, water, and medication through a small supply tube, and constant contact was maintained with them throughout the 17-day ordeal. A dozen doctors and psychiatrists were brought to the scene to monitor their health. Remarkably, the men remained in good spirits, even engaging in yoga sessions and playing cricket to keep themselves entertained.
Last week, a drilling machine managed to penetrate nearly 50 meters of debris, raising hopes of a rescue “within hours.” However, the blade broke at 12 meters, necessitating a new strategy. On Sunday, a high-risk vertical drilling operation began, and on Tuesday, specialists manually drilled the final 12 meters. An escape passage tube was inserted, enabling the rescuers to reach the trapped individuals.
The Silkyara 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 550-mile road network. However, the project has faced criticism from environmental experts who argue that it could cause subsidence and disturbances in the fragile Himalayan region, which is already prone to landslides and earthquakes. Following the disaster, a group of experts highlighted that the Silkyara-Barkot tunnel lacked an emergency exit and was built on a geological fault. The National Highways Authority of India has been tasked with inspecting 29 other tunnels under construction across the country.