New Delhi — A group of 41 men were rescued Tuesday from a partially collapsed Himalayan highway tunnel in northern India’s Uttarakhand state after they were trapped for 17 days, India’s transportation minister announced. The breakthrough, after a series of failed attempts, was achieved by a team of “rat miners” digging manually through the huge mound of debris that filled a section of the tunnel on Nov. 12.

“Tireless and sincere efforts by everyone, coupled with prayers from all, have made this operation possible,” Nitin Gadkari, the minister of road transport and highways, said on social media. “The dedicated endeavors of the rescue teams have yielded favorable results.”

The rescued men were greeted with garlands of marigold flowers. Outside the tunnel, firecrackers went off and people cheered.

The rat-hole miners, experts in a traditional method of coal mining still used widely in India, were called in only on Monday after more than two weeks of failed attempts to reach the stranded workers using heavy machinery.

The team of 24 rat miners started work Monday to drill through the debris pile manually and create a narrow passageway to the trapped men. Each trapped worker was pulled out individually on a wheeled stretcher.

Uttarakhand’s top elected official, Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami, in a post on social media, lauded the “tireless work of all the rescue teams engaged in the rescue operation.”

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