Their heads covered with hard hats, faces glistening with hope, 41 workers trapped in an Uttarakhand tunnel were seen this morning for the first time in 10 days after a landslide shut their exit route. A camera pushed through a six-inch pipe and walkie-talkies connected them to the score of rescuers working overtime to bring them back.
Between the rescue teams and the trapped workers is debris about 40 metres thick. Drilling through this and bringing the workers home has been a tall challenge owing to a combination of factors, including the topography and the nature of soil in the Himalayan region.
Around 3.45 am today, when the workers’ faces appeared on camera, there were some moments of excitement among the rescue teams. The mood soon turned serious as the rescuers planned the next steps in their daunting task. They assured the workers that they will reach them soon and shot off several instructions.
“Are you alright? If all of you are okay, please show yourself before the camera. Please raise your hands and smile,” the workers were told over the walkie-talkie. They responded by lining up before the camera. Their faces showed a stubble that had grown over the past week, their heads were covered by hard hats. They waved to the camera, signalling that they are doing well.
“We will reach you very soon, please do not worry. Please come in front of the camera one by one. We want to show your relatives that you are okay,” a rescuer said.
The workers were then asked to take the camera from inside the pipe and focus it on each of them. “We can see you very clearly,” a rescuer said, asking if the workers had received the walkie-talkie they sent through the pipe. When the workers confirmed they had, the rescuers instructed them how to operate the walkie-talkie.
The camera and walkie-talkie connection with the workers is a significant development in the long-drawn rescue operation. The six-inch pipe pushed through the rubble is a lifeline, through which the workers can be sent food and medicines. The visual and voice connection now will help rescue teams motivate the workers and reassure them amid their harrowing wait to be home.
In the footage from this morning, one can also hear the rescue workers discussing a plan to send food to the trapped workers. Khichdi and Daliya are among the items being prepared to be sent through the six-inch pipe, according to a report by news agency ANI.
On Monday, soon after the pipe was in place, the workers were sent Khichdi. This was their first proper meal in 10 days.
The 41 workers have been stuck since a landslide in the under-construction tunnel on November 12 blocked their exit. The tunnel, which is part of the centre’s ambitious Char Dham projects, is located between Silkyara and Dandalgaon in Uttarakhand. This tunnel is on the road proposed to connect Uttarkashi and Yamunotri.