‘We never lost hope’: Odisha labourer recounts survival in Uttarkashi tunnel
Forty-year-old Dhiren Nayak said the trapped workers bathed using the hill water and they licked water dripping from the rocks
Just before the tunnel caved in at Silkyara in Uttarkashi on November 12, Dhiren Nayak, a 40-year-old labourer from Badakudar village in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district, and 40 others were about to wind up their shift and were mentally getting ready to celebrate Diwali. When the tunnel caved in with just 200 metre from the exit, Nayak like others in the tunnel, did not think they would be stuck for a long time.
“We went on our duty on December 11 at 8pm. The next day was Diwali so we wanted to finish the work early and leave the tunnel by the next morning. When we were planning to leave, the first cave-in occurred and soon it became bigger, blocking our way. As the debris fell, we saw no way out. We had no mobile phone communication as there was no network. The walky-talky handsets also did not work. The first four hours were terrifying for us. So, we opened the water pipeline to convey the message to the outside that we were stuck inside and alive. When the engineers waiting outside saw water coming out, they got to know that we have been trapped,” Nayak said, from a health facility in Uttarkashi before he was airlifted to Rishikesh in a Chinook helicopter of the Indian Air Force (IAF).
Nayak said the labourers did not face any problem in respiration initially because the tunnel was almost 2-km long and it had enough Oxygen inside. “However, we started facing issues as I could feel difficulty in breathing. We did not get Oxygen supply for 18 hours till a small pipeline was established into the tunnel that allowed puffed rice, cashew nut, raisins, water and Oxygen. Dried fruits such as puffed rice, chickpeas and nuts were sent. We survived the initial 10 days on puffed rice and dry fruits. Later, the authorities sent dal, rice and chapati through a 6-inch pipe,” he said.
He said the labourers never thought that they would not come out alive. “We kept each other’s morale high. As food started coming in, we felt relieved. We bathed using the hill water and had to lick water dripping from the rocks. To relieve ourselves, we moved to the extreme end of the tunnel so that the stench would not reach us. But we never lost hope. We lived like brothers and used to take food together,” he said.
He said there was an arrangement for light inside the tunnel and they never faced any issue of darkness. “I can never forget the moment when I came out. I thought I have got a new life,” he said.
Like Dhiren, Bisweswar Nayak from Jogibandh village of Mayurbhanj district, said the labourers watched movies that they had downloaded on their smartphones. “We played video games and watched movies. As there was no mobile network, speaking to our near and dear was out of question till we were given BSNL land phone. I managed to speak to my family in Odisha,” he said.
Bisweswar said after having breakfast the labourers used to stroll inside the tunnel. “While strolling we watched movies and played games. The mobile phones kept us from getting bored,” he said.
Apart from Dhiren and Bisweswar, the other three from Odisha are Tapan Mandal, Raju Nayak and Bhagaban Bhatra.
Odisha’s labour minister Sarada Nayak, who is camping in Uttarkashi, would bring the five Odia labourers back to Odisha.