‘Rat miners’ to the rescue: How trapped Indian miners were saved

Silkyara, India, Nov. 28 (Reuters) – Authorities called a group effectively banned in the country – “rat-hole mining” – when heavy machinery broke down trying to break through debris that trapped 41 workers in a tunnel in the Indian Himalayas.

Auger machines were able to drill through nearly three-quarters of the debris horizontally, and on Tuesday it fell to a half-dozen miners skilled at drilling in tight spaces to reach the trapped workers.

Rescuers successfully evacuated workers on wheeled stretchers through a wide pipe pushed through the debris after a 17-day ordeal.

“It’s a difficult task, but nothing is too difficult for us,” said Feroz Qureshi, one of the miners, standing with his fellow workers outside the tunnel, their faces covered in white dust after drilling overnight.

With 15 meters of 60 meters left to reach the trapped people, the “rat miners” started working late on Monday after a second drilling machine also broke down.

They worked in two groups of three men each, one drilling, the second collecting the debris, and the third pushing it out of the pipe.

They said they worked for more than 24 hours.

“When we saw them inside the tunnel, we hugged them like they were family,” said Naseer Hussain, one of the six miners.

“Rat-hole” mining is a dangerous and controversial method widely used to extract thin seams of coal in the northeastern state of Meghalaya, before an environmental court banned the practice in 2014 due to environmental damage and many casualties.

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Some of the miners involved in the rescue said they were not involved in coal mining and were trained in Delhi.

The name comes from their resemblance to rats digging holes in the ground. The pits are large enough for workers, often children, to climb down using ropes or ladders to extract coal – often without safety measures and proper ventilation.

At least 15 miners were killed in one such “rat hole” mine in Meghalaya over a month into January 2019 – one of several tragedies in a state where rights groups say 10,000 to 15,000 people died in such mines between 2007 and 2019. And 2014.

The practice was outlawed in the 1970s when India nationalized coal mines and gave state-run Coal India a monopoly.

However, many small mine owners continued to employ short persons or children to extract coal illegally, and the federal government did not intervene due to the state’s remote location and poor coal quality.

Reporting by Saurabh Sharma in Silkyara and Shivam Patel in New Delhi Editing by Angus Maxwan

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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