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All 41 trapped workers rescued from Indian tunnel after 17 days underground

All 41 workers trapped in a collapsed tunnel in the northern Himalayas have been rescued after 17 days stuck underground.

Wearing yellow safety jackets, the workers crawled through an opening that was drilled through the debris of a landslide by hand.

People across India had been glued to their televisions to watch live coverage of the rescue operation, which had seen two failed attempts to free the miners.

Hundreds of locals assembled near the site to cheer on the rescue workers. They also distributed sweets outside the Silkyara tunnel as the trapped workers emerged.

The rescue mission saw skilled “rat miners” manually dig through the last 12 metres following a setback with a drilling machine attempting to create a wider opening.

Harpal Singh, a tunnel engineer at the scene, told The Telegraph, “It is such a relief. I am happy – we have been able to safely evacuate the workers.”

Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, said: “The success of the rescue operation of our labour brothers in Uttarkashi is making everyone emotional. I want to say to the friends who were trapped in the tunnel that your courage and patience is inspiring everyone. I wish you all well and good health.”

Mr Modi applauded the “bravery and determination” of the rescuers, adding: “Everyone involved in this mission has set an amazing example of humanity and teamwork.”

Rescue teams inserted pipes into dug-out areas and welded them together so the workers could be brought out on wheeled stretchers. The evacuation process began at 8pm, when the first worker was brought out.

The miners will receive immediate medical attention within the tunnel’s makeshift medical centre before being transferred to a nearby makeshift hospital for further care, said Mr Singh.

For family members like Dhanpati, whose son Ram Sundar was among the trapped workers, the successful rescue has marked an end to 17 days of anguish. “He is my only son, and I am happy he was safely rescued,” said Dhanpati.

In Mirzapur, in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, a small crowd gathered nervously at the home of trapped worker Akhilesh Singh to await news. Family members anxiously watched on TV, hoping to catch a glimpse of his face.

On Sunday, rescuers also began to create a vertical channel with a newly replaced drilling machine as a contingency plan. An attempt to break through with heavy machinery horizontally had failed last week.

Most of the workers are migrant labourers from across the country. Many of their families had travelled to the location, where they have camped out for days to get updates on the rescue effort and in hopes of seeing their relatives soon.

Authorities supplied the trapped workers with hot meals through a 15cm (6in) pipe after days of surviving only on dry food sent through a narrower pipe.

They received oxygen through a separate pipe, and more than a dozen doctors, including psychiatrists, have been at the site monitoring their health.

The tunnel the workers were building was designed as part of the Chardham all-weather road, which will connect various Hindu pilgrimage sites.

Some experts say the project, a flagship initiative of the federal government, will exacerbate fragile conditions in the upper Himalayas, where several towns are built atop landslide debris.

Large numbers of pilgrims and tourists visit Uttarakhand’s many Hindu temples, with the number increasing over the years because of the continued construction of buildings and roadways.

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