December 19, 2014 / 1:37 PM / 3 years ago

Vietnam rescues trapped workers after four-day ordeal

HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnamese rescuers including hundreds of troops and miners on Friday freed 12 workers trapped for nearly four days after a tunnel collapsed during construction of a hydropower plant.

Bad weather and the complicated geology of the site in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong had hampered the rescue effort since Tuesday's accident, with fears the workers might not survive after battles to supply them with oxygen and drain water rising around them.

Television footage showed rescue teams and workers emerging from the collapsed tunnel and being greeted by applause, smiles and cries of relief after a nearly 82-hour mission that gripped the country.

"There's no better joy than seeing the 12 victims rescued safely," Lam Dong provincial secretary Nguyen Xuan Tien told reporters. "They made magic."

Most of the workers were hospitalized and in stable condition. The sole female among those trapped was given emergency treatment at the site, said the head of local health department, Pham Thi Bach Yen.

The rescue team dug from both ends of the tunnel and drilled from above, following light from the torches of the trapped workers, who were provided with milk, nutrients, sausages and ginger tea through a tube.

"Our family has been revived," Pham Viet Diem, whose son and daughter-in-law were trapped, told Vietnam Television.

"There's nothing more emotional than this. Our family has been unable to sleep or eat."

The $22 million hydropower plant, one of dozens planned or under construction in energy-hungry Vietnam, was expected to produce about 110 million kWh annually.

Reporting by Mai Nguyen; Editing by Martin Petty and Robert Birsel

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