Celebration erupted outside the under-construction Silkyara tunnel in Uttarakhand on Tuesday night as rescue workers successfully pulled out all the 41 labourers trapped inside for the last 17 days.
The extraction process began in the evening after a team of five-six rat-hole miners finished the drilling work, making way for a 800 mm pipe to barge through and reach the workers.
A few personnel from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) had first gone down the pipe to assess the condition inside and guide the workers through rescue protocols.
As per a PTI report, an ambulance with the first of the 41 workers left the mouth of the tunnel around 8 pm. In the next half an hour, all other workers were also brought out on specially modified stretchers, culminating the multi-agency rescue operation.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami and Union Minister V.K. Singh, who were at the site to oversee the rescue mission, welcomed the workers as some people chanted Har Har Mahadev and Bharat Mata ki Jai.
All the 41 workers were rushed to a community health centre near the site, where a special 41-bed ward had been set up. The labourers will be kept under medical observation for some time before being sent home.
Dhami said none of the workers are in a critical condition. "All of them were fit and they crawled out of the passage on their own," he added.
The chief minister also announced that Rs 1 lakh will be given to each of the 41 construction workers.
As the rescue appeared imminent earlier in the day, families stationed in Silkyara were allowed inside the tunnel with their belongings so that they could travel with their loved ones to the medical centre, reports claimed.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauded the rescue operation, asserting that it has made everyone emotional. "Everyone involved in the mission has created an amazing example of humanity and teamwork," he said.
The workers were trapped inside the tunnel being between Silkyara and Dandalgaon following a landslide at the site on November 12.
The rescue operation hovered between hope and despair as the augur machine that was carrying out horizontal drilling faced multiple snags before being broken and stuck in the debris.
Meanwhile, food, medicines and other essentials were sent to them through a six-inch pipe pushed through the rubble of the collapsed portion.
As the clock was ticking, authorities explored the option of manual drilling and called a group of men versed in the technique of rat-hole mining to dig through the rubble.