World

Rescuers break through debris trapping 41 miners in Indian tunnel

Rescuers have broken through debris that has trapped 41 men in an Indian tunnel, an official has said.

The low-wage workers from India’s poorest states have been stuck in the three mile (4.5km) highway tunnel in Uttarakhand for more than two weeks.

Last week, a drilling machine broke down, delaying the rescue operation.

But on Monday, so-called rat miners were brought in to drill through the rocks and gravel by hand.

A dozen men are taking turns with hand-held tools, said Kirti Panwar, a state government spokesperson.

They made good progress overnight, officials said earlier.

“About six or seven metres are left,” said Deepak Patil overnight, a senior officer leading the rescue.

Asked whether the men could be reached on Tuesday, he replied: “Sure, 100%.”

Rescuers have also started to create a vertical channel to drill horizontally.

Local residents pray at the site where rescue operations are underway at a tunnel, where workers are trapped after a tunnel collapsed, in Uttarkashi in the northern state of Uttarakhand, India, November 28, 2023. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas
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Local residents pray at the site

Pushkar Singh Dhami, the chief minister of Uttarakhand, previously said the damaged drilling machine would be removed by Sunday.

Syed Ata Hasnain, a member of the National Disaster Management Authority, said the operation was becoming “more complex” and the machine’s failure would slow the process.

The men have been receiving food, water, light, oxygen and medicines through a pipe.

“We have to strengthen our brothers stuck inside,” Mr Hasnain said. “We need to monitor their psychological state.”

Mr Dhami told reporters, however: “They are in good spirits. They said, ‘take as many days as you require, don’t worry about us’.”

The tunnel is part of the £1.2bn Char Dham highway, being built to connect four Hindu pilgrimage sites through a 500-mile network of roads.

While authorities have not said what caused the collapse, there have previously been landslides, earthquakes and floods in the area.

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