(Bloomberg) -- India rescued all 41 workers trapped in a collapsed tunnel in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand for more than two weeks, according to a statement by Nitin Gadkari, India‘s Minister of Road Transport and Highways.
Rescue workers broke through the 60-meter stretch of debris in the under-construction highway tunnel on Tuesday, Devendra Patwal, an official with the Uttarakhand State Disaster Management Authority involved in the rescue operation, said via text messages.
A makeshift health center was set up at the site to provide immediate medical care to the workers, Syed Ata Hasnain, a member of India’s National Disaster Management Authority said at a briefing today. A 30-bed facility is also ready at a nearby hospital, he said.
On Nov. 12, a portion of the tunnel collapsed about 200 meters from the entrance, trapping the laborers working inside.
Rescue efforts started by drilling through the debris inside the tunnel using heavy machinery which broke down, forcing rescuers to drill manually. The government deployed so-called rat-hole miners to excavate a narrow passageway toward the trapped workers.
The mishap highlights the risks of large scale development in the mountainous region which is seismic and prone to landslides. The government recently said the National Highways Authority of India — which develops, maintains and manages highways — will carry out an audit of the 29 tunnels currently under construction in the country.
Rescue teams were able to supply some food and medicines through a pipe to keep the laborers alive. While the tunnel had electricity and water supply after the accident, there were concerns about dropping temperatures as winter sets in the mountainous region.
The portion of the tunnel where the workers were trapped is 8.5 meters high and two kilometers long, according to a government statement.
The 4.5-kilometer long tunnel is a segment of the 120 billion rupees ($1.4 billion) Char Dham connectivity project, which will stretch for about 889 kilometers (552 miles) across the fragile Himalayan terrain.
--With assistance from Abhay Singh, Shruti Srivastava and Santosh Kumar.
(Updates with all rescued in first paragraph.)
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