Those nine days were like a bad dream: Himachal tunnel survivors

Bilaspur (Himachal Pradesh), Sep 23 (IANS) Trapped in a dark tunnel 50 metres under a mountain for nine days was like a bad dream, said one of the two survivors who were rescued from an under-construction tunnel that collapsed on September 12.

“After four days, a ray of hope came when the rescuers traced us and managed to establish contact with us through a microphone and webcam,” Satish Tomar, who was stuck in the caved-in tunnel along with two other workers, told IANS on Wednesday.

In a first-of-its kind operation, rescuers managed to evacuate construction workers Tomar and Mani Ram after over 200 hours of their ordeal in the tunnel. However, the whereabouts of the third worker, Hirdya Ram, are not known yet.

Tomar, who survived by eating paper and soil for the initial four days, said his growing beard was the biggest irritant for him.

“Soon after being rescued, my first priority was to get a shave,” he added.

For Mani Ram, the other trapped worker, Tomar was the “motivational spirit”.

“In fact, he (Tomar) was the man who gave me a second life,” he said.

“Off and on, I was feeling low. But it was Satish who lifted my spirits. For hours, we used to sing devotional hymns,” an elated Ram said.

On the first day, Tomar, by using his mobile phone as a torch, collected some papers lying inside the tunnel and soft soil to be eaten in case of emergency.

He also managed to collect some fresh groundwater in a pipe for drinking and identified areas for sleeping and defecation.

He said a drilling machine was stuck in the tunnel.

“On the second day when the level of groundwater inside the tunnel started rising, we decided to stay on the machine only. A matchbox and a jute bag found in the toolbox of the drilling machine also came in handy for us,” Tomar said.

“On the fourth day, we suddenly heard some voices. We ignited the jute bag and found that a microphone was hanging from the tunnel roof. In this way, we managed to establish contact with the rescuers and got the supply of dry fruits, glucose and water,” he added.

They were supplied foodstuff and oxygen through a 42-metre-long shaft dug by the rescuers.

As the trapped workers came out of the shaft on September 21, they waved towards the onlookers. They were wearing helmets and sunglasses to prevent their eyes from getting affected by the sunrays.

Officials said this was the first-of-its-kind operation that the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) undertook.

Both the workers are under constant medical observation.

“Their medical tests are perfect and they are fit. But still they are under observation,” a government doctor told IANS.

Chandigarh-based tunnel company Himalayan Construction Co., whose three workers were trapped, announced an interim relief of Rs.1 lakh each for the two.

Meanwhile, the district administration has decided to suspend the operation to locate the third worker as the tunnel has developed major cracks and started caving in.

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