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Uttarkashi Tunnel: All 41 Workers Trapped For 16 Days Rescued Safely

A temporary medical facility has been set up inside the Silkyara tunnel in Uttarakhand's Uttarkashi for the trapped workers. Ambulances have also been deployed at the site to transport the workers to a 41-bed hospital specially prepared for them.

Uttarakhand CM Pushkar Singh Dhami with first labourer evacuated from Silkyara tunnel in Uttarkashi district
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After sixteen days of rigorous efforts by experts and rescue personnel, all 41 workers trapped in an under-construction tunnel at Silkyara in Uttarakhand's Uttarkashi were rescued in a swift evacuation process on Tuesday. Sweets were being distributed at the site. Happiness and relief were on the faces of all the people awaiting this moment for the past two weeks.

The rescue operation reached a breakthrough moment in the evening as the pipe inserted to evacuate them was successfully pushed across to the other side of the debris. The labourers were being pulled out one-by-one on wheeled stretchers.

All of the workers are in good health, officials said. However, a makeshift medical facility was set up inside the tunnel to treat any workers who may be injured or need assistance. Ambulances are on standby and the workers will be shifted to a 41-bed hospital specially set up for them. 

Moments ahead of the evacuation, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami announced that the drilling process was complete and the rescue pipe was pushed across the debris. "There has been great success in the ongoing rescue operation in Silkyara Tunnel, the work of pipe pushing has been done across the debris. Now preparations have been started to evacuate the workers safely," he posted on X.

Experts and rescue personnel used 'rat-hole' mining technique to reach the trapped workers after several methods failed. It was earlier reported that the manual horizontal drilling had been completed, but the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) clarified this afternoon that the final two metres of drilling was still going on.

The NDMA had earlier said that once the extraction starts, the entire process is likely to take three to four hours. However, ground reports suggest that the evacuation is taking place at a fast pace and all the workers may be rescued sooner than expected.

Earlier in the day, after a Uttarakhand government official told media that the drilling was over, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami also tweeted that the drilling and the insertion of pipes were complete. 

The last leg of rescue operation

This morning, the rescue operation entered the final lap as the rat-hole mining experts continued with digging through the rubbles while the vertical drilling from above the tunnel also continued by the other rescue workers to expedite the process.

It has been reported that the rescuers are now hopeful about being able to pull out the workers soon today through the one-metre-wide shaft when it breaks through the top of the tunnel below.

It has also been reported that, by Monday evening, the residual of the busted auger drilling machine had also been cut out piece by piece and a steel pipe inserted further into the partially complete escape passage.

Preparations in place outside the tunnel

As the trapped workers are expected to be extracted today, preparations got underway to rush them to a hospital for immediate medical care following their rescue.

A separate ward comprising 41 oxygen-supported beds has been readied at the community health centre in Chinyalisaur, about 30 km from Silkyara, for the workers. 

The road outside the tunnel, which became uneven due to regular movement of heavy vehicles over the past fortnight was being repaired and a fresh layer of soil was being laid for smooth movement of ambulances.

Senior police officers briefed the security personnel outside the tunnel to spring into action the moment workers start coming out of the escape passage being prepared for them.    

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About rat-hole mining

Rat-hole mining is defined as a controversial and hazardous mining procedure in which miners divided in small groups go down narrow burrows to excavate small quantities of coal.

Uttarakhand government’s nodal officer Neeraj Khairwal made it clear that the men brought to the site were not rat-hole miners but people who are experts in the technique.

They were divided into teams of two or three. Each team are going into the steel chute laid into the escape passage for brief periods.

Rajput Rai, a rat-hole drilling expert, earlier said one man will do the drilling, another collect the rubble with his hands and the third place it on a trolley to be pulled out.

About the drilling operation so far

Twelve rat-hole mining experts are involved in manual drilling and excavation horizontally through the last 10- or 12-metre stretch of debris of the collapsed portion of the under-construction tunnel on Uttarakhand's Char Dham route.

Earlier, the drilling was being carried out by a huge auger machine that got stuck in the rubble on Friday, forcing officials to focus on an alternative option -- drilling down from above the tunnel. 

For the horizontal through-the-rubble option, officials decided that the final stretch would be handled through a manual approach in which individual workers will go into the escape passage with drills, as well as gas-cutters to tackle obstacles like iron girders.

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