The first images of 41 Indian workers trapped for 10 days in a collapsed road tunnel in the Indian Himalayas have emerged. The workers, stuck behind a mountain of rubble in the northern Himalayan state of Uttarakhand since November 12, were seen on camera for the first time on Tuesday, appearing exhausted but alive.
Rescue operations have been underway since the tunnel collapse, with excavators working to remove tonnes of earth, concrete, and rubble. The slow progress has been hindered by falling debris and repeated breakdowns of heavy-drilling machines, necessitating the airlifting of new equipment by the air force.
A 30-second video released by state authorities showed the trapped men, wearing hard hats and reflective jackets, standing in a semi-circle in front of an endoscopic camera sent through a thin pipe. Rescuers assured them of their safety and continued efforts to free them.
The initial plan to create a horizontal exit route through the rubble has faced challenges, leading to the exploration of alternative strategies. The rescuers are now considering drilling vertically from the forested hill above or approaching from the far side of the road tunnel.
The trapped workers have been supplied with essential items through a widened tube, including hot meals delivered via a newly installed 15-centimetre pipe. Communication with the workers has been maintained through radios and walkie-talkies, providing some relief to their families who have waited anxiously outside the tunnel.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has prioritized the rescue mission, with assurances from authorities that every effort is being made to bring the workers to safety. The workers, mostly from low-wage backgrounds in India’s north and east, have been advised to engage in light exercises and regular communication to maintain their well-being during the ordeal.
As rescue teams work on multiple approaches, including the drilling of a vertical shaft and the assessment of stability with a drone, hopes remain high for a successful and swift rescue operation. The incident has also sparked discussions about the environmental impact of extensive construction projects in the ecologically fragile Himalayan region.