Uttarakhand tunnel rescue boosts morale of nation amid global wars, World Cup final loss
After 17 harrowing days inside the tunnel, Tuesday evening finally brought relief as 12 “rat-hole miners” burrowed through a wall of rock, mud and debris with hand-held tools.
As people strung up twinkling lights and passed sweets and earthen lamps across India on Diwali evening, depressing news began filtering in that 41 men from the Navayuga Engineering Company Limited (NECL) were stuck in an under-construction road tunnel between Silkyara and Barkot in a remote corner of Uttarakhand. The sudden collapse of debris that blocked their egress also dampened celebrations as hapless relatives of the construction workers rushed to the mountain state. The rest of the country held its breath through the twists and turns of the painstaking rescue process as hopes of reaching the men – 15 from Jharkhand, eight from Uttar Pradesh, five each from Bihar and Odisha, three from West Bengal, two each from Assam and Uttarakhand and one from Himachal Pradesh – were repeatedly dashed by the rumbling hills, and the breakdown of multiple drilling machines.
After 17 harrowing days inside the tunnel, Tuesday evening finally brought relief as 12 “rat-hole miners” burrowed through a wall of rock, mud and debris with hand-held tools. Hours later, disaster relief personnel pulled out the workers — exhausted and shaken but beaming, and in visibly good spirits — on wheeled stretchers, bringing the curtain down on a daring and arduous operation.
The rescue was described as a godsend by many workers. “”The world is again beautiful for us,” rescued worker Sabah Ahmad said.
Far beyond the rugged rock face of Silkyara, the hard-earned success of the operation also sparked celebrations and cheers in distant metropolises. As scenes of jubilation played out at the mouth of the tunnel and beamed live into millions of homes across the country, the beaming faces of the rescued men and the men who worked through inclement weather and multiple setbacks boosted the morale of a nation whose collective spirit was at a low ebb.
Consider the circumstances. The country had just suffered the heartbreak of the cricket team’s shock loss to Australia in the finals of the ODI cricket World Cup after marauding over the rest of the opposition throughout the tournament. The blanket of silence hush that draped Narendra Modi stadium that November night seemed to echo in the minds of a billion people.
Two wars were raging in different parts of the world, and photos of death and devastation saturated news coverage. The terrorist attack on Israel on October 7, and the humanitarian tragedy unfolding in Gaza were both calamities that diminished one’s faith in the human spirit.
Even the tunnel rescue operation – seemingly routine at first – appeared treacherous. Anxiety loomed about the well-being of the workers as rescuers repeatedly hit snags, first hulking excavator machines scooping out debris triggered a fresh collapse of rocks and mud inside the tunnel on November 13, and then underpowered machines scuttled the operation briefly, sparking angry protests by rescuers. “We were really scared, every moment felt that death was standing nearby,” rescued worker Deepak Kumar said.
But on Tuesday, things started looking up, as a motley group of unlikely heroes continued to make strenuous progress, refusing to be stymied by the cascading volley of challenges before them.By 7.45pm, the first worker was out. The cloud over the nation’s collective mood had started to lift. By 8.30pm, as wild cheers and yellow garlands of marigold were all that one could see and hear on television, the haze of gloom had been dispelled. “It was like another Diwali for us,” said Jaimal Singh Negi as he sprinted to hug his brother, Gabbar. Across the country, a billion people nodded in silent agreement.
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