The seventeen-day ordeal in which rodent miners rescued humans from an Indian tunnel.


The seventeen-day ordeal in which rodent miners rescued humans from an Indian tunnel. Eleven construction personnel. Twenty-seven days. Desires of a nation. Delivering good news to India on Tuesday, rescue workers rescued forty-one men who had been entombed beneath a collapsed tunnel in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand since November 12.

However, after days of futile attempts, success was not solely brought about by high-tech equipment; a group of individuals known as “rat miners,” who engaged in an officially prohibited trade, also emerged victorious.

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The laborers were rescued as follows.

What transpired regarding the Uttarakhand tunnel?

Early on November 12, the Silkyara Bend-Barkot tunnel, which was still under construction, experienced a catastrophe in Uttarakhand. As a result, low-wage construction laborers, primarily from other states in eastern and northern India, became confined within a subterranean space spanning 4.5 kilometers (3 miles).

As part of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious Char Dham pilgrimage program, worth $1.5 million, the tunnel was constructed to connect four Hindu pilgrimage locations.

Authorities have not officially verified the cause of the tunnel’s collapse; however, the area is susceptible to landslides, earthquakes, and flooding. CP Rajendran, a geologist, stated to Al Jazeera that the Himalayan region is “constantly plagued by stability issues” due to the presence of extremely fragile rock.

A panel of experts investigating the catastrophe also determined that the tunnel lacked emergency exits and was built through a geological fault, according to information obtained by Reuters.

How was the rescue conducted?

Despite establishing communication with the individuals in the tunnel one day following the collapse, rescue operations encountered numerous obstacles that caused significant delays.

Excavator teams utilized heavy auger machines to excavate the detritus systematically and horizontally. Snags on the initial drilling machine caused it to malfunction, resulting in a cessation of operations until a replacement was delivered. The second machine also malfunctioned despite horizontally drilling approximately three-quarters of the detritus.

Following this, on Monday evening, six miners originating from central India were assigned the responsibility of rodent mining, which involved the utilization of hand-held drills to penetrate the remaining rock.

The miners labored in two teams of three for more than twenty-four hours, with one member performing the drilling operation, the other collecting debris, and the third expelling it from the conduit.

Tuesday evening marked the successful retrieval of all the workers from the tunnel. Rescuers utilized stretchers to wheel them out through a steel conduit measuring 90cm (3 feet) in width.

“We embraced them like family when we saw them inside the tunnel following the breakthrough,” one of the six miners, Nasir Hussain, reminisced.

The laborious manual drilling process that ultimately rescued the laborers is called “rat mining.”

To which do rats mine?

Rat mining, also known as rat-hole mining, entails the manual excavation of confined tunnels.

The method derives its nomenclature from its analogy to rodents excavating burrows in the soil. This method was frequently implemented in the northeastern state of Meghalaya, where the apertures were generally of a dimension that permitted laborers to descend and extract slender coal deposits. Consequently, this responsibility was frequently assigned to minors.

Critics criticized the technique for its inadequate ventilation and safety protocols, leading to its prohibition by an environmental court in 2014.

However, the practice has persisted within the predominantly unregulated mining industry.

A minimum of fifteen miners perished in one of these mines in Meghalaya in January 2019 following a month-long ordeal. Between 2007 and 2014, 10,000 to 15,000 people perished in such mines, according to human rights organizations.

However, several miners involved in the rescue operation claimed to have received their training in Delhi and were not coal miners.

Before transporting some of the workers to the hospital, Pushkar Singh Dhami, the chief minister of Uttarakhand, conferred with them and bestowed upon them traditional marigold garlands. Helicopters and ambulances were stationed in readiness at the entrance of the tunnel. In celebration, confections were distributed, and fireworks were detonated.

“Despite the construction workers’ ambulances being dispatched, their condition is impeccable and perfectly normal… just like yours or mine.” “Their health is not a source of concern,” stated Wakil Hassan, the leader of the rescue party.