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41 Indian workers trapped in tunnel rescued after 17 days

SILKYARA, INDIA (Reuters): Indian rescuers on Tuesday pulled out all 41 construction workers trapped for 17 days inside a collapsed tunnel in the Himalayas, hours after drilling through the debris of rock, concrete and earth to reach them.

The evacuation of the men – low-wage workers from some of India’s poorest states – 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 stole 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. 

“It is a matter of great satisfaction that after a long wait these friends of ours will now meet their loved ones. The patience and courage that all these families have shown in this challenging time cannot be appreciated enough.”

Federal road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari thanked rescue workers and said in a post on X that a “safety audit of the tunnel will also be done now”.

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