India, Nov 28, (NDTV) Forty-one workers trapped in Uttarakhand's Silkyari tunnel are now moments away from escaping their earthen prison of 17 days, according to a tweet by Indian Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami.
Rescue teams racing to save the 41 men have cleared the final few metres of debris - thanks to the banned manual "rat-hole"-mining technique being employed after high-tech machines, or augers, failed to drill through nearly 60 metres of rock - and lay pipes to create an escape route, he said.
"As a result of immense grace of Baba Baukh Nagji (and) prayers of crores of countrymen and the tireless work of all rescue teams... the work of laying pipes in the tunnel to take out the workers has been completed. Soon all the labourer brothers will be taken out," he tweeted Tuesday afternoon.
Officials have told National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and emergency medical personnel with stretchers are now on standby to enter the tunnel and work their way into the collapsed cavern.
They will assess the condition of the trapped men and begin the process of bringing them out; a temporary medical centre has been set up at the mouth of the tunnel, where they will be examined and given first aid, if needed, before they are prepped for transport in the ambulances.
Visuals from the rescue site - a storm of activity over the past two weeks as battalions of tunnelling experts, disaster response teams and medical personnel work to save the 41 trapped men - showed ambulances - one for each trapped man - being taken, one-by-one, into and out of the tunnel.
These were understood be practice drills for when the workers are finally brought above ground.
When the men are rescued, a green corridor has been established to ensure each ambulance is transported to a makeshift hospital in Chinyalisaur, which is located 30 km from the tunnel site.
The medical facility has 41 oxygen-equipped beds and the necessary equipment and medicines to provide each worker with the required medical care, NDTV has been told. The workers will only be shifted to the premier All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Rishikresh if necessary.
"Rescued workers will be brought here only if medical treatment cannot be met in district hospital. At AIIMS Rishikesh, there are 20 beds in Trauma Centre and a few in the ICU," a senior physician said.
Earlier today relatives were asked to "be prepared"; "Keep their clothes and bags ready," officials told them, explaining that one family member would be allowed to ride in each ambulance.