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India tunnel workers could face PTSD after rescue from ordeal

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Indian rescue workers in the tunnel

The 41 Indian construction workers trapped in a collapsed highway tunnel for 17 days will need long-term support after their rescue, including monitoring for post-traumatic stress disorder, officials said on Tuesday.

Rescuers drilled through rocks and debris to finally reach the men on Tuesday in the Himalayan tunnel, where they have been trapped since it collapsed on Nov. 12. Rescuers were scheduled to pull them out, one by one, later in the day.

Endless snags and equipment breakdowns frustrated efforts to dig a tunnel to rescue the men with high-powered drilling machines, while they continued to receive food, water, light, oxygen, and medicine through a narrow pipe.

Ambulances were waiting at the mouth of the tunnel on Tuesday afternoon to take the men to the hospital, and R.C.S. Panwar, the top medical officer in Uttarkashi district, where the tunnel is located, said they would all be given a thorough checkup and follow-up monitoring by specialists.

For some, the mental impact of their ordeal could last for many months, said Dr. Dinakaran D. of the state-run National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences.

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“There is a risk of PTSD in these individuals,” Dinakaran said.

“All 41 would experience some post-traumatic symptoms like insomnia, recurrent bad dreams, recurrent reliving of the tunnel collapse, and anxiety,” he said. “Not everyone will have the disorder, but most will suffer from these symptoms for, say, three to six months.”

The men have been in constant touch with rescuers through wireless devices and had two kilometres of space within the tunnel to walk around in, wash, and rest. Rescuers also sent anti-depressants to them through the small pipe.

While they waited day after day to be rescued, the men were encouraged to talk to each other, tell stories, do yoga, do light exercise, and play board games sent to them.

Dinakaran stated that regular interval checks would need to be conducted for at least a year.

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“There may be enduring changes in one’s personality,” he said.

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