Indian rescuers on Tuesday pulled out the first of 41 construction workers trapped inside a collapsed tunnel in the Himalayas for 17 days, hours after drilling through the debris of rock, concrete, and earth to reach them, officials said.
The evacuation of the men to safety began more than six hours after rescuers broke through to end an ordeal that began early on Nov. 12 when the tunnel caved in.
“The first one is out,” a rescue official told reporters outside the 4.5-kilometre (3-mile) tunnel in the northern state of Uttarakhand.
Ambulances with their lights flashing lined up at the mouth of the underground to transport the workers to a hospital about 30 km away.
The men have been getting food, water, light, oxygen, and medicines through a pipe, but efforts to dig a tunnel to rescue them with high-powered drilling machines were frustrated by a series of snags.
The underpass is part of the $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 890-km network of roads.
Authorities have not said what caused the cave-in, but the region is prone to landslides, earthquakes, and floods.