Forty-one construction workers emerged from a collapsed tunnel in Uttarkashi, a town in India’s northern state of Uttarakhand, on Tuesday, concluding a 17-day ordeal that captivated the nation and required an extensive rescue operation. The workers, who were stranded following a landslide, walked out to jubilant crowds and celebratory firecrackers after receiving a brief medical examination.
Nitin Gadkari, the minister of road transport and highways, expressed relief and joy in a video posted on the social media platform X, commending the well-coordinated effort by multiple agencies in what he termed one of the most significant rescue operations in recent years.
The collapse of a section of the 4.5-kilometer tunnel occurred about 200 meters from the entrance on November 12, caused by a landslide. No fatalities or serious injuries were reported. The workers, trapped near the tunnel entrance, were provided with essential supplies, including food, water, and oxygen through pipes. A team of doctors, including psychiatrists, monitored their health throughout the ordeal.
Initially expected to last only a few days, the rescue operation faced setbacks, extending the workers’ time underground. The final stretch involved manual digging by a team of rescuers after the machinery used for the operation broke down. The workers were eventually extracted individually on a wheeled stretcher through a meter-wide tunnel of welded pipes.
All 41 workers emerged in good health, receiving checkups at a makeshift medical camp before being transported away in ambulances. Most of the workers were migrant laborers from various parts of the country, and their families had gathered at the site, anxiously awaiting their rescue.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to some of the workers, praising their courage and patience, while also commending the collaborative efforts of those involved in the rescue mission. The tunnel was part of the Chardham all-weather road project, connecting Hindu pilgrimage sites, and has been a flagship initiative of the federal government. Critics argue that such projects may contribute to fragile conditions in the upper Himalayas, where towns are built atop landslide debris.