Rescuers on the brink of reaching 41 trapped men in Indian tunnel

A concrete block is carried into the tunnel where rescue operations are underway to rescue trapped workers, after a tunnel collapsed in Uttarkashi in the northern state of Uttarakhand, India, November 28, 2023. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

Indian rescuers drilled through rocks and debris on Tuesday to reach 41 workers trapped for 17 days in a collapsed tunnel in the Himalayas, and were set to pull them out one by one to safety, officials said.

The men, low-wage workers from India’s poorest states, have been stuck in the 4.5 km(3 mile) tunnel in Uttarakhand state since it collapsed on Nov. 12.

The process of pulling them out, one at a time on wheeled stretchers through a pipe 90cm (3 feet) wide, would take a couple of hours, officials said.

The 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 and ambulances began arriving to take the 41 men to a hospital about 30km away.

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.

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