UPDATE: Tunnel Rescue Success

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    Indian official Pushkar Singh Dhami, right, greets a worker rescued from a collapsed road tunnel on November 28, 2023. (Uttarakhand State Department of Information and Public Relations via AP)
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    An ambulance waits to carry workers from the site of the collapsed tunnel in Uttarakhand, India, on November 28, 2023. (AP)
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Cheers erupted as rescuers in India reached 41 construction workers on Tuesday. The men were trapped in a collapsed mountain tunnel for more than two weeks in the country’s Uttarakhand state. Now all have been pulled from the debris.

Rescuers resorted to manual digging after their drilling machine broke on Friday. The machine bored through about 154 feet of the 187 to 196 feet needed before diggers began working by hand. Rescuers pushed pipes through dirt and rocks to create a passageway. 

Kirti Panwar, a state government spokesperson, says about 12 men worked overnight to dig through rocks and debris. They took turns drilling with hand-held tools and clearing out the muck in the final stretch of the rescue operation.

As dusk fell Tuesday, families of those stuck underground gathered near the site of the accident, anxiously waiting to see their loved ones emerge from the Silkyara Tunnel.

Uttarakhand state official Pushkar Singh Dhami presented the first man freed with a garland. Rescuers, officials, and relatives cheered.

Dhami says the workers each went through an initial health checkup at a temporary medical camp set up inside the 42.6-feet-wide tunnel.

The massive rescue mission grabbed the world’s attention for the past weeks. On November 12, a landslide caused a portion of the 2.8-mile tunnel to collapse about 650 feet from the entrance, trapping the workers. The rescue was originally expected to take only a few days  but stretched into a 17-day ordeal.

Authorities supplied the men with hot meals through a six-inch-wide pipe after days of surviving on only dry food sent through a narrower pipe. They received oxygen through a separate pipe. More than a dozen doctors at the site monitored their health.

Most of the workers are migrant laborers from across the country. Many family members traveled to the location. They camped out for days for updates on the rescue effort and in hopes of seeing their relatives.

Devender, a rescuer who gave only his first name, told a reporter, “The trapped workers were overjoyed when they spotted us in the tunnel. Some rushed toward me and hugged me.”

Nitin Gadkari is India’s minister of road transport and highways. He said on social media that he was “completely relieved” after the successful rescue from the Silkyara Tunnel. “I am very happy that all the 41 trapped workers have come out and their lives have been saved,” he says.

The world rejoices at the liberation of the construction workers. Praise God for His mercy. Remember that the happiness on Earth over this rescue mirrors just a tiny fraction of the rejoicing in heaven when even one person repents! (Luke 15:7)

The road the workers were building will connect various Hindu pilgrimage sites. Some experts say the project will aggravate fragile conditions in the upper Himalayas, where several towns are built atop landslide debris.