The first images of 41 construction workers trapped in a tunnel in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand emerged on Tuesday (21/11) when rescue teams made visual contact with them.
Workers were building a tunnel as part of an ambitious highway project in the Himalayas when part of it collapsed on November 12.
A video, released by state authorities, showed the workers wearing construction helmets and jackets and standing around a medical endoscope camera inserted through a 15-centimetre-diameter pipe pushed through the rubble on Monday.
An official asked the workers to smile and wave. They seemed to respond to the instructions.
One of 40 workers trapped inside a collapsed tunnel in Silkyara, in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, India, Tuesday, November 21, 2023. (SDRF via AP)
Installing wider pipes was seen as a breakthrough. The pipe was used Monday evening to deliver the first hot meal of rice and lentils to the workers, who have so far survived on dry food such as beans delivered through a narrower pipe. Officials said the pipeline will also be used to transport other essential goods such as medicines, mobile phones and chargers.
In the video, the rescue team can be heard reassuring the workers: “We will get you out safely; Don’t worry.” An official can also be heard telling them to show themselves in front of the camera one by one to confirm their identities.
“All workers are completely safe,” Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said in a statement. “We are trying our best to immediately get them out safely,” he added.
Family members of trapped workers gathered at the rescue site told reporters they felt reassured after seeing photos of their relatives. Rescuers had previously used radio to contact the men, who were all low-wage workers.
Their rescue efforts entered their 10th day on Tuesday. Initial attempts to move a 91-centimetre-wide steel pipe horizontally that workers could use to exit were halted on Friday due to concerns that more debris would fall and complicate rescue operations.
Rescue efforts were also hampered by damage to heavy machinery drilling through rock and rubble to create a way out.
Despite the challenges, an international tunnel expert, who has joined the operation, expressed confidence that the people would be rescued while various options were explored. (lt/ab)