Uttarkashi: Rescue workers pulled out all 41 workers trapped in Uttarakhand’s Silkyara tunnel in a multi-agency rescue operation that hovered between hope and despair for almost 17 days.
Union minister V K Singh and Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami welcomed the workers as National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) men brought them out through a steel chute that lined a 60-metre passage.
An ambulance with the first of the 41 workers left the mouth of the tunnel around 8 pm, about an hour after a group of rat-hole mining experts dug through the last stretch of rubble.
There was hugging and cheers as the ordeal ended. Outside the tunnel some people chanted “Har Har Mahadev” and “Bharat Mata ki Jai”
Ambulances which had lined up at the tunnel ferried the workers to a community health centre where a special 41-bed ward had been set up.
Before this, the workers were given a quick medical checkup as they emerged out of the steel pipe.
CM Dhami said no worker was in a critical situation. But the labourers will be kept under medical observation for some time before being sent home, he said.
He said the youngest of the worker was rescued first.
A portion of the tunnel on the Char Dham route collapsed on November 12, blocking the exit of the workers who were inside.
Food, medicines and other essentials were sent to them through a six-inch pipe pushed through the rubble of the collapsed portion.
Relief was felt far and wide.
Over the phone, Jharkhand’s Sunil, who was camping in Silkyara, spoke to PTI on the rescue of his brother Anil.
“Finally, God heard us. My brother could be rescued. I am with him in an ambulance on the way to hospital,” he said in a choked voice.
As the rescue appeared imminent earlier in the day, families stationed in Silkyara were allowed inside the tunnel with their belongings so that they could travel with their loved ones to the medical centre.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauded the relief workers. “Everyone involved in the mission has created an amazing example of humanity and teamwork,” he posted on X.
“It is a matter of great satisfaction that these friends of ours will meet their dear ones after a long wait,” he added.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah said he saluted the grit of the trapped workers for facing such a challenging situation for so long.
The final challenge in the rescue operation was tackled by a group of men versed in the technique of rat-hole mining, which typically involves extracting small amounts of coal by going down narrow burrows.
They were called in to carry out manual drilling after a huge American-made auger boring machine got stuck in the horizontal passage that had been dug up to about 47 meters.