Uttarkashi tunnel collapse | ‘This shows there’s God’: Relief for families of trapped workers from Bengal

For Lokhi Pakhira, the past 17 days were all about praying for the safe return of her son Souvik (24), who was among the three workers from Bengal trapped in the Silkyara tunnel in Uttarkashi since November 12. However, behind the worry was a belief that her son would survive against all odds. Her wait ended on Tuesday after all 41 workers trapped inside the tunnel were rescued.

At Souvik’s home in Harinkhali in Hooghly district, his mother hasn’t stopped playing the conch shell ever since she heard of her son’s rescue.

“Everyday I have spent hours praying for his good health. Finally, a miracle has happened. This shows that is a God and he had just been testing our patience,” said Lokhi.

“I will always be thankful to everyone who was a part of the rescue team. My son has always been a fighter. He proved that he can survive against all odds. I am proud of him and the entire country for fighting this together,” she added.

Apart from Souvik, two other workers from Bengal – Manik Talukdar (51) from Cooch Behar district and Jaidev Pramanik from Hooghly district – were trapped after a portion of the under-construction tunnel on the Uttarakhand Char Dham route collapsed, cutting off its exit route.

Festive offer

Back in Manik’s home, his son Mani says the family has been glued to the television for the past few days eagerly waiting for updates. “It has been a long wait. I was so scared, so many bad thoughts were crossing my mind. Now, we are just waiting for my father to come home safely,” said Manik after hearing the news about the workers’ rescue.

uttarakhand rescue Ambulances carrying workers trapped in the Silkyara-Barkot tunnel in Uttarakhand leave after the rescue operation completes on Tuesday, November 28. (Express photo by Chitral Khambhati)

“It is a strange feeling. For the past few days we had been waiting eagerly for the workers’ return, now it seems that moment is here…When I saw the workers coming out of the tunnel, I couldn’t control my tears. After so many days I will probably sleep peacefully today,” he added.

“On Monday, they connected us to him. My father said he was fine. We will celebrate after we meet him,” said Mani.

Thanking the officials behind the mission, Mani says it’s a “victory for everyone”.

Of the 41 workers who were trapped inside the 4.5-km-long tunnel being built between Silkyara and Dandalgaon on the Brahmakhal-Yamunotri national highway, 15 were from Jharkhand, eight from Uttar Pradesh, five from Odisha, four from Bihar, two each from Uttarakhand and Assam, one from Himachal Pradesh and three from West Bengal.

Meanwhile, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday announced that the government has sent a team of officials to Uttarkashi to ensure the safe return of the rescued workers from Bengal. “Have rushed a team to Uttarkashi for helping our people. The team, led by Rajdeep Dutta, Liaison Officer, Office of Resident Commissioner, New Delhi, will help with the evacuation and safe return of the trapped workers in the tunnel at Silkyara, Uttarkashi to their homes in West Bengal,” she posted on X.

The CM stated that the team included three more officials – Shubhabrata Pramanick, Somnath Chakraborty and Raju Kumar Sinha.

“They have left for Uttarkashi by a car with driver A Kumar to facilitate the return of our three workers, who have been trapped inside the collapsed Silkyara-Barkot tunnel in Uttarkashi,” wrote Banerjee. She also assured all support to the family members of the workers.

Sharing Banerjee’s post, Leader of Opposition in Assembly Suvendu Adhikari posted: “Good to see that you have woken up so early.”

Calling the rescue mission “historic”, the BJP MLA from Nandigram tweeted: “Finally our men have been rescued from the Uttarkashi tunnel. I wholeheartedly thank the rescue teams of NDRF, Uttarakhand SDRF and Indian Army; miners and workers, engineers, state and central govt officials in charge of the mission, international tunneling experts and everyone who have worked tirelessly for this moment. Prayers of crores of countrymen have finally been answered. Hopefully, the workers who remained trapped for more than 2 weeks, will regain good health very quickly. I extend my best regards to their family members as well.”