Rescue Op Chief To NDTV On Uttarakhand Rescue

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'Exceeded Expectation': Rescue Op Chief On Uttarakhand 'Rat Miners'

New Delhi:

The rat miners who made the breakthrough in Uttarakhand — freeing 41 labourers trapped in a tunnel for 17 days by digging the last 12-metre stretch in less than 24 hours — had “beaten expectations,” said Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, a member of NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority).

“I thought they would progress at the rate of two to three meters in 18/20 hours. But they managed to do 10 meters in less than 18 hours,” he told NDTV in an exclusive interview.

The workers, he said, took impediments in stride and managed to deliver fast, working under conditions that were “extremely cramped”.

“Rat miners” — labourers used to drilling narrow shafts as part of a primitive and currently illegal method of coal extraction — had to manually dig the rocks over a 12-metre last stretch that proved too tough for an American Augur drill and several other devices.

Showering praise on the workers, the Lt General pointed to their “nonchalance”, which, he said, stemmed from “years of experience” and compared them to battle-hardened soldiers.

“The confidence that was being exuded by them. Yesterday on television they were speaking, showing a nonchalant kind of attitude as if this hardly mattered. They were willing to go in with anything. No special tools as such,” he said.

Asked how the rat miners were roped in for the job, the officer said the suggestion probably came from an open source and “someone took it seriously”.

The 41 labourers had been trapped in the tunnel on the Brahmakhal-Yamunotri National Highway since a landslide early in the morning of November 12. Multiple efforts to rescue them drew a blank. Lastly the authorities resorted to manual digging from two sides and blasting a hole in the tunnel from its other end.

The 4.5-km tunnel will join Silkyara and Dandalgaon in Uttarkashi and is part of the Chardham project. Once finished, it is expected to cut down the distance between the two spots by 26 km.

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