A historic moment was witnessed at the Silkyara tunnel in Uttarkashi on Tuesday evening when the NDRF and SDRF rescue teams managed to reach the 41 trapped workers and brought them to out to safety with the help of an escape pipe.
Rescue teams drilled through the 60-metre stretch of rubble of the collapsed Silkyara tunnel. Each worker laid down on a wheeled stretcher that was pulled by rescue workers outside using ropes.
The workers were rescued after a harrowing 17-day ordeal inside the tunnel. The daring operation of pulling out the workers was completed in less than an hour.
Three teams of the NDRF went inside the escape pipe to bring out the first batch of five workers from the tunnel which collapsed on November 12. The first worker came out of the pipe at around 8pm IST.
"The exact time of breakthrough was 7:05 pm. Uttarakhand CM, Minister of State for Road Transport & Highways and Civil Aviation Gen VK Singh are present there," said Harpal Singh, Project Head, Zoji-la Tunnel.
Uttarakhand CM Pushkar Singh Dhami was one of the first ones to meet the workers as they came out one by one. He even greeted them with garlands.
"I was inside when the pipe was being pushed. When I saw the (trapped) workers, I came back. Now, it's like an open road and anyone can come and go," said Balinder Yadav, a worker involved in the rescue operation.
Ambulances were lined at the mouth of the tunnel to rush the rescued workers as they are brought of the steel chute one by one and then airlifted by a Chinook helicopter to a community health centre.
Everything in readiness for trapped workers
A stretch of mud road was re-laid to make passage of ambulances easier. Stretchers were being taken inside the mouth of the tunnel.
A special ward with 41 oxygen-supported beds had been readied days earlier at the community health centre in Chinyalisaur, about 30 km from Silkyara, for the rescued workers.
“A temporary medical camp has been set up inside the Silkyara tunnel. After rescuing the trapped workers, their health check-up will be done at this place. Eight beds and a team of doctors and experts are deployed in the makeshift medical camp set up by the Health Department inside the tunnel,” said Chief Minister Dhami’s office.
Meanwhile, families of the trapped workers were told to "keep their clothes and bags ready" officials outside the site.
"One family member will be accompanying each worker in the ambulance while they are taken to the hospital," officials said.