As rescuers brought out 41 workers trapped in an Uttarakhand tunnel for 17 days yesterday evening, they were greeted with wild cheers and flower garlands. With beaming smiles, the rescued men were welcomed as heroes after being hauled through 57 metres of steel pipe on stretchers specially fitted with wheels, where they were greeted by state officials before embracing their families.
Narrating the ordeal, one of the workers says that he was on his way home when the tunnel suddenly collapsed.
"The tunnel collapsed in front of me and there was a loud sound after which my ears went numb," Akhilesh Singh, who was trapped in the tunnel, tells NDTV.
"We had no contact from the outside world for 18 hours. As per our training, we opened a water pipe soon after we were trapped. When the water started falling, the people outside understood that there were people stuck and started sending us oxygen through that pipe," he added.
Once the rescuers managed to insert a steel pipe through the debris, Mr Singh says that they were sent food through the day. So much so, that there is still enough food in the tunnel to last 25 days.
Mr Singh says that he now plans to go home and rest for at least 1-2 months.
"I plan to go home after the health checkups are done. I will then take a break for 1-2 months before deciding what to do next," he says.
Situated about 30 km from Uttarkashi, the Silkyara tunnel is an integral part of the central government's Char Dham all-weather road project, which will stretch for about 889 kilometers across the fragile Himalayan terrain.
A portion of the tunnel collapsed about 200 meters from the entrance on November 12, trapping the laborers working inside.
While the government has launched a safety audit of the tunnel after the incident, Akhilesh Singh said that it was an environmental disaster and no one could be blamed.