Indian Construction Workers Trapped in Collapsed Tunnel Get First Hot Meal in 10 Days, as Rescue Efforts Continue

The 41 construction workers trapped in a collapsed tunnel in northern India for over a week are getting their first hot meals on Tuesday through a new six-inch wide steel pipe as rescuers pursue an alternative plan to free them.

New footage shows the men—who became stuck in the tunnel after a landslide in Uttarakhand state on Nov. 12—clad in construction gear, presenting themselves before the camera and waving. Authorities released a 30-second video, filmed on an endoscopic camera, that had been pushed through the debris.

“We will bring you out safely, do not worry,” rescuers told the men, according to translations by Al Jazeera.

The meal consisted of rice and lentils, a dish known as khichdi. Before Tuesday, the men were consuming dry food and water via a narrower four-inch pipe, and oxygen provided through another pipe. They have been communicating with rescuers using walkie-talkie radios that can be seen in the video.

The wider pipe will make the flow of supplies to the men easier, allowing for more food, water, medical supplies, phones, and batteries. “I have seen them on camera, but now I'm waiting to see them in the flesh,” Rahul Ameen, a friend of two men trapped inside the tunnel, told the BBC.

Security personnel stand at an entrance of the under construction road tunnel, days after it collapsed in the Uttarkashi district of India.<span class="copyright">Arun Sankar—AFP via Getty Images</span>
Security personnel stand at an entrance of the under construction road tunnel, days after it collapsed in the Uttarkashi district of India.Arun Sankar—AFP via Getty Images

The men became trapped after a portion of the 4.5-kilometer (2.8-mile) tunnel, which was under construction in the mountainous vicinity of the Himalayas, caved in on itself after a landslide. The tunnel collapsed around 200 meters (656 ft.) from its entrance.

Construction of the tunnel is part of the Chardham all-weather road, a flagship project of the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that aims to connect Hindu pilgrimage sites, so that the state can better accommodate the growing influx of pilgrims and tourists to the region.

The construction plans are also part of the government's bid to improve access to the disputed India-China border area in the Himalayas, known as the Line of Actual Control.

Rescue efforts have been slowed down by loose soil and debris delaying. Rescuers attempted to use a drilling machine to dig horizontally toward the men, but efforts were paused on Friday, when the tool worsened debris and broke down.

Authorities have outlined a handful of plans to rescue the workers. Officials said Monday that rescuers are creating an access road to dig 103 meters (338 ft.) vertically from the top of the mountain, which could take a number of days and worsen debris falling in the tunnel. It is hoped that a hole can be created that is large enough to allow up to five pipes to be pushed through it, which will clear a crawl space for the workers to exit through.

Rescue workers are also continuing to dig horizontally from the mouth of the tunnel toward the trapped construction workers.

Write to Armani Syed at