'Like brothers': rescued Indian tunnel workers stayed hopeful through ordeal

'Like brothers': rescued Indian tunnel workers stayed hopeful through ordeal
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

By Saurabh Sharma

CHINYALISAUR, India (Reuters) -Hope that they would be rescued soon kept workers trapped in a collapsed tunnel in India strong through their 17-day ordeal, some of the men said on Wednesday after their rescue.

All 41 men, low-wage workers from some of India's poorest states, were rescued. They were taken to a specialist hospital in Rishikesh city after spending the night at a makeshift medical facility in this small Himalayan town.

Doctors said they were all doing well but would need long-term support, including monitoring for post-traumatic stress.

"They are quite normal, I won't even call them patients," said Meenu Singh, head of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Rishikesh.

Doctors had done some basic medical tests and on Thursday will decide if they can be sent home.

"We will do a basic psychological assessment also so that we can follow it up later on whether this incident is having any effect on them on a long term basis," she said.

The men had lights in their confinement area and service pipes were used to push in oxygen, water, food, medicines and also to talk to them, and allow them to speak to their families.

They went for daily walks and did yoga in the 2-km (1-mile) stretch of the highway tunnel in which they were trapped.

But many said knowing they were not forgotten, and would be soon pulled out, was what really kept them hopeful and strong.

"For the first day or so, everyone inside was very hopeless and sad," worker Birendra Kishku, 39, told Reuters. "We didn't know if anyone outside knew we were trapped."

"But when they reached us through the pipe, we got to know what the government was doing to bring us out," he added. "Me, my family and our entire village is very happy now."

Worker Subodh Kumar Verma also said that knowing that a major rescue operation was underway gave him solace and hope.

"I am fine now. It is because of your prayers, and the hard work of the government that I was able to come out," he added.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to the men by phone late on Tuesday and a video clip of the conversation showed the men sharing their experience with him.

"We lived like brothers," Saba Ahmed, a worker of the private firm contracted to build the tunnel, told Modi.

"I would tell the workers that we are eating, drinking but have no work so let us do some yoga, go for morning walks to stay fit," he said.

The tunnel is part of the $1.5 billion Char Dham highway, one of Modi's most ambitious projects aimed at connecting four Hindu pilgrimage sites through an 890-km network of roads.

Authorities have not said what caused the cave-in but the region is prone to landslides, earthquakes and floods.

Sukanti Nayak, the mother of worker Raju, said her son was the one telling her not to worry.

"When I first talked to him when he was inside I cried," she told Reuters. "My son was consoling me, telling me not to worry and assuring me that they would soon come out."

"We are eagerly waiting for him to return home."

(Additional reporting by Jatindra Dash in Bhubaneswar; Writing by YP Rajesh; editing by Miral Fahmy and Angus MacSwan)