Asia

Indian rescuers break through debris to reach 41 men trapped in tunnel

AMBITIOUS PROJECT

Dozens of rescue workers with ropes, ladders and stretchers entered the tunnel and 41 ambulances were lined up outside to take the 41 men to a hospital about 30km away.

Helicopters were on standby there to fly workers to a larger hospital in the city of Rishikesh in case any of them needed specialist attention.

A makeshift medical facility with 10 beds and oxygen cylinders was also set up inside the tunnel for those who might need emergency care on site, officials said.

Some rescue workers in hard hats made victory signs and posed for pictures. Others carried marigold garlands to welcome the workers out in traditional Indian style.

Relatives of the trapped men, who have been camping near the site, were taken inside the tunnel with luggage, ready to accompany the men to hospital.

“As he comes out, my heart will revive again,” the father of a trapped worker, who give his name as just Chaudhary, said of his son, Manjeet Chaudhary.

Villagers also gathered outside the tunnel, some singing Hindu devotional songs and raising slogans in praise of the Hindu god Lord Ram on hearing news of the breakthrough.

Others gathered on nearly slopes hoping to catch a glimpse of the men as they are brought out.

The men have been getting cooked food since a lifeline pipe was pushed through last week, including flat breads, lentils and vegetable curry.

More than a dozen doctors, including psychiatrists, have been at the site, talking to the men through the pipe and monitoring their health.

They were advised to do light yoga exercises, walk around in the space they have been confined to, and keep speaking to each other.

The tunnel is part of the US$1.5 billion Char Dham highway, one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s most ambitious projects, aimed at connecting four Hindu pilgrimage sites through an 890km network of roads.

Authorities have not said what caused the cave-in but the region is prone to landslides, earthquakes and floods.

The tunnel did not have an emergency exit and was built through a geological fault, a member of a panel of experts investigating the disaster has told Reuters.

The Char Dham project has faced criticism from environmental experts and some work was halted after hundreds of houses were damaged by subsidence along the route.

The government has said it employed environmentally sound techniques to make geologically unstable stretches safer.

It also ordered the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to audit 29 tunnels being built across India.

Source: CNA

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