May 22, 2024

 AFP, SILKYARA TUNNEL: Indian workers were
greeted with wild cheers and flower garlands Tuesday as rescuers safely brought
out all 41 from the collapsed Himalayan road tunnel where they were trapped
after a marathon 17-day engineering operation.
With beaming smiles, the rescued men were welcomed as heroes after being
hauled through 57 metres (187 feet) of steel pipe on stretchers specially
fitted with wheels, where they were greeted by state officials before embracing
their families.
“Hail mother India!” crowds outside the tunnel cheered, as news spread that
all had made it safely out of the under-construction tunnel in the Himalayan
state of Uttarakhand, where they had been incarcerated since a partial collapse
on November 12.
Relatives outside celebrated, after previous hopes of reaching the men were
repeatedly dashed by falling debris and the breakdown of multiple drilling
machines, in a rescue operation the government said took place in “challenging
Himalayan terrain”.
“We are thankful to God and the rescuers who worked hard to save them,”
Naiyer Ahmad told AFP, whose younger brother Sabah Ahmad was among the trapped
workers, and who had been camping out in bitterly cold temperatures at the site
for over two weeks.
“We are extremely happy, no words can explain it,” said Musarrat Jahan, the
wife of one rescued worker Sabah Ahmad told AFP by phone from Bihar state,
where she had been waiting desperately for news.
“Not only my husband got a new life, we also got a new life. We will never
forget it”.

– ‘Now to celebrate’ –

Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the workers in a statement that their
“courage and patience is inspiring everyone”.
“Patience, hard work and faith won”, said Uttarakhand state chief minister
Pushkar Singh Dhami, praising the “prayers of tens of millions of countrymen
and the tireless work of all the rescue teams.”
The health of the workers was “fine”, with a team of medics in a field
hospital assessing them as soon as they were brought out, Dhami added.
Guriya Devi, wife of rescued worker Sushil Kumar, said she had been praying
ever since the tunnel collapsed.
“We passed through horrible times, and sometimes we lost hope — but
ultimately the time has come to now celebrate”.
Munnilal Kishku, father of freed worker Birendar Kishku, said they had not
celebrated Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, because it had happened the
same time as the tunnel collapsed. “We will celebrate it when he reaches the
village,” he said.
After repeated setbacks in the operation, military engineers and skilled
miners dug the final section by hand using a so-called “rat-hole” technique, a
three-person team working at the rock face inside a metal pipe, just wide
enough for someone to squeeze through.

– ‘Effort and sacrifice’ –

Indian billionaire Anand Mahindra paid tribute to the men at the rock face
who squeezed into the narrow pipe to clear the rocks by hand.
“After all the sophisticated drilling equipment, it’s the humble ‘rathole
miners’ who make the vital breakthrough,” Mahindra said on X, formerly Twitter.
“It’s a heartwarming reminder that at the end of the day, heroism is most
often a case of individual effort and sacrifice.”
Last week, engineers working to drive a metal pipe horizontally through the
earth ran into metal girders and construction vehicles buried in the rubble,
snapping a giant earth-boring machine.
A separate vertical shaft was also started from the forested hill above the
tunnel, as well as from the far side of the road tunnel, a much longer route
estimated to be around 480 metres.
Before Tuesday, the workers were seen alive for the first time last week,
peering into the lens of an endoscopic camera sent by rescuers down a thin pipe
through which air, food, water and electricity were delivered.
Arnold Dix, president of the International Tunnelling and Underground Space
Association, who had been advising the engineers, told reporters ahead of the
rescue that the men were in good spirits, and that he had heard they had been
“playing cricket”.

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