There is light at the end of the tunnel-- Vinod Singh and his 11 colleagues lived this reality on Sunday.
Singh (33), a welder, was the first one to be rescued from one of the two blocked tunnels. A video where he is seen wriggling out of the tunnel, overwhelmed, chanting slogans in ode to the famous Badrinath temple, has since gone viral. The video was shot by the ITBP (Indo Tibetan Border Police).
Mr. Singh, a resident of Joshimath recalled the seven gruelling hours he spent in the tunnel with his colleagues, till they were rescued by a team of ITBP personnel.
“The tunnel that is four-metre high was covered in a mix of debris and water for up to three metres. We managed to catch hold of the iron railing above and clung to it for our lives, we were exhausted. Sometimes we changed hands or tried to catch hold of the tunnel’s wall to remain alive,” he said on phone from the ITBP’s hospital in Joshimath.
Faint network on phone
Mr. Singh said it was a faint network on his phone that saved them.
“We managed to drag ourselves up to 350 metres to the end of the tunnel, where we saw some light. We decided to stay put there as we could get oxygen through that small hole. I noticed that my BSNL phone had network. I first called my office manager and then my brother. I told my brother to stay calm and send help,” he said.
An ITBP team, deployed 15 km away was rushed to the tunnel and they began the excavation work around 10.30 am. The tunnel was used to dispose waste water from the power project.
“It was a battle for life, the tunnel was full of wet debris and we could not possibly step down. We were cold and our clothes were soiled. There was no option before us but to hang on. The patience finally paid off. I was the first one to be rescued around 6 p.m.,” he said, adding that he had been working at the project for the past one and a half years. His joint family comprises his wife, son, mother and brother’s family.
He said there were no warning signs. “Suddenly there was a strange sound and slush started filling the tunnel….soon there was complete darkness. We got no time to react,” he recalled.
Scores in the second tunnel at Tapovan are still stuck with efforts on to rescue them.