Rescuers on Tuesday successfully drilled through to 41 men trapped inside a collapsed Himalayan tunnel, as a weekslong evacuation effort fraught with uncertainty enters its final stretch.
The men have been trapped since November 12 when the part of tunnel they were helping to construct in India’s northern Uttarakhand state gave way, blocking their only exit with more than 60 meters (200 feet) of broken rock, concrete and twisted metal.
Uttarakhand government’s executive engineer Avinash Kumar Saini told CNN that drilling had been completed.
Mahi Shah, the brother-in-law of a laborer trapped inside, who is at the tunnel entrance, said rescuers have gone inside the tunnel.
“41 ambulances are ready here for people to come out. We have been told in about an hour they will all be out,” he told CNN.
The breakthrough follows a series of agonizing setbacks, during which rescue efforts were halted when the heavy machinery used to drill through the debris broke down, forcing workers to dig by hand.
The laborers – all migrant workers from some of India’s poorest states – have been receiving food, water and oxygen through a 53-meter (173 foot) pipe that has been inserted through the debris and authorities say they remain in good health.
Doctors on site have kept in regular contact with the men inside, giving them tips on how to remain positive and calm. Their families have been gathering at the tunnel exit each day to pray for their safe return.
The tunnel is part of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Char Dham Highway route, a controversial multimillion dollar project to upgrade. the country’s transport network and improve connectivity to important Hindu pilgrimage sites in the region.
This is a breaking news story. More to come.
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