NEW DELHI/DEHRADUN: After a long 17-day ordeal, all 41 workers trapped in the partially collapsed Silkyara tunnel were pulled out in a multi-agency rescue operation around 8.30 pm on Tuesday. 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.
There was hugging and cheering as the ordeal ended. Some local villagers burst crackers. Outside the tunnel, some chanted "Har Har Mahadev", "Bharat Mata ki Jai" and slogans in praise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr Dhami.
The Prime Minister lauded the relief workers. "Everyone involved in the mission has created an amazing example of humanity and teamwork," he posted on X, adding, "It is a matter of great satisfaction that these friends of ours will meet their dear ones after a long wait."
Announcing the evacuation of the workers, Mr Dhami said, "Now we will work according to the advice of the doctors and medical teams. They have come out of deep darkness after 17 days. Now they will be kept under medical observation and then a final decision will be made if they have to be sent home.”
"The 12 rat miners' work proved decisive in rescuing the stranded workers," the Uttarakhand CM said, adding that the construction of Baba Baukhnath temple will be taken up before resuming tunnel work.
After evacuation, all the stranded workers were examined by the medical team stationed at the temporary medical facility set up by the rescuers inside the tunnel. Later, they were sent to a 41-bed temporary hospital prepared for them at the Chinyalisaur airstrip, nearly 40 km from Silkyara. Besides, AIIMS Rishikesh management was also kept on alert.
According to officials overseeing the rescue operations, the last steel pipe was successfully pushed into the escape passage and the stage was set to evacuate trapped workers at around 7.15 pm. Prior to that, rescuers completed 59 metres of escape passage drilling in the evening.
Earlier, rescuers at the collapsed tunnel got a major success as they were able to further drill a 4-metre horizontal escape passage that had been on hold for nearly three days.
The officials said that the rat mining method was a great help for speedy drilling of the escape passage. The rat miners did a phenomenal job by digging 10 metres in less than 24 hours.
"Rat-hole mining may be illegal, but it is rat miners' talent, experience and capability that proved critical," NDMA member Lt. Gen. Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd) said.
The 4.5 km tunnel is part of the Centre's ambitious Char Dham project aimed at providing all-weather connectivity between four prominent Hindu shrines -- Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri -- in Uttarakhand.
The tunnel connects Silkyara and Dandalgaon in Uttarkashi district and is known as the Silkyara tunnel.
On November 12, a section of tunnel between 205 and 260 metres from the Silkyara side collapsed. Workers who were beyond the 260-metre mark were trapped, with their exit blocked. Fortunately for them, the part of the tunnel where they are stuck had power and water supply.