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All 41 Workers Trapped in Indian Tunnel Rescued After 17 Days: 'Great Joy for All of Us'

The construction workers were trapped inside a tunnel in the Himalayas that collapsed after a Nov. 12 landslide

<p>UTTARAKAHAND INFORMATION DEPARTMENT/HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock </p> A handout photo from the Uttrakahand Information Department shows Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami (C) and Union Minister VK Singh (R) garland the first rescued worker inside the tunnel on the Brahmakal Yamunotri National Highway in Uttarkashi, India, on November, 25 2023.

All 41 construction workers trapped inside a tunnel that collapsed in the Himalayas after a Nov. 12 landslide have finally been rescued, authorities said Tuesday.

“The happiness on the faces of the workers and their families is the biggest inspiration for me,” said Pushkar Singh Dham, chief minister of the state of Uttarakhand, where the construction was taking place, in a post shared on X (formerly known as Twitter).

“It is a matter of great joy for all of us that all the 41 workers trapped in the tunnel under construction in Silkyara (Uttarakashi) have been rescued safely. Initial health checkup of all the labor brothers is being done in the temporary medical camp,” he continued.

Rescuers drilled through rock and concrete to reach the workers, with the evacuation beginning more than six hours later after they broke through the debris, per Reuters. The workers were then freed after 17 days stuck in the collapsed construction site.

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The Guardian reported that the first worker emerged around 8 p.m. local time on Tuesday. The rescued workers were met with garlands of flowers placed on them, and cooked meals were being prepared outside of the chamber. Footage shared by BBC News showed the workers being cheered on and applauded as ambulances transported them away from the site.

<p>UTTARAKAHAND INFORMATION DEPARTMENT/HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock </p>

UTTARAKAHAND INFORMATION DEPARTMENT/HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Jyotish Basumatary, a brother of worker Sanjay Basumatary, told The New York Times: “I will accompany Sanjay when he gets out. I feel at peace at the moment. We feel energized and happy to be told the ordeal will be over soon.”

On Nov. 12, a landslide resulted in a part of the 2.8-mile tunnel that was being built by the workers to cave in approximately 650 feet from the entrance, the Associated Press reported. The news agency added that workers subsisted on food and oxygen that came through steel pipes.

Related: At Least 162 Dead in Myanmar Jade Mine Collapse Caused by Landslide: A 'Preventable Tragedy'

According to CNN, initial rescue attempts were hampered when the heavy machinery needed to drill through the debris broke down, prompting the rescuers to dig using their hands. When the drilling was finished, CNN added, a large pipe was brought in through the exit shaft's last portion so the trapped workers could finally evacuate. 

“I feel relieved and happy to learn that all the workers trapped in a tunnel in Uttarakhand have been rescued,” Droupadi Murmu, the president of India, posted on X.

She continued, “Their travails over 17 days, as the rescue effort met with obstacles, have been a testament of human endurance. The nation salutes their resilience and remains grateful to them for building critical infrastructure, even at great personal risk, far away from their homes. I congratulate the teams and all experts who have acted with incredible grit and determination to perform one of the most difficult rescue missions in history.”

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Dham also said on X that the rescue operation "became a wonderful example of humanity and teamwork."

A majority of the trapped workers hailed from some of India’s poorer states, the Times reported, with their relatives saying that the workers made about $250 a month.

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