‘They gave us almonds’: Rescue workers who first met labourers trapped inside Uttarakhand tunnel

Uttarkashi (Uttarakhand): Feroze Qureshi and Monu Kumar, experts in the rat-hole mining technique, were the first to meet the 41 labourers rescued from the Silkyara tunnel in Uttarakhand on Tuesday after they cleared the last bit of the rubble inside the structure.

All the 41 workers were rescued on Tuesday evening after 17 days of a multi-agency operation conducted by the central and state governments.

Qureshi from Delhi and Kumar from Uttar Pradesh were part of a 12-member team of rat-hole mining technique experts who were called on Sunday to do the drilling after an American auger machine came across hurdles while clearing the rubble.

“They (the labourers) could here us when we reached the last portion of the rubble. Soon after removing the rubble, we got down to the other side,” Qureshi, a resident of Delhi’s Khajoori Khas, told PTI.

“The labourers thanked and hugged me. They also lifted me on their shoulders,” he said, adding that he was happier than the rescued workers.

Qureshi is an employee of the Delhi-based Rockwell Enterprises, an expert in tunnelling work.

“They (the labourers) gave me almonds and asked my name. Soon, our other colleagues joined us and we were there for about half and hour,” Kumar, a resident of Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh, said.

He said the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) personnel went inside the tunnel after them. “We came back only after the NDRF personnel arrived,” Kumar said.

“We are very happy that we were part of this historic operation,” he added.

The leader of the 12-member team from Rockwell Enterprises, Wakeel Hassan, said he was approached for help by a company involved in the rescue operation four days ago.

“The work got delayed while removing the portion of the auger from the rubble. We started at 3 pm on Monday and finished the work at 6 pm on Tuesday,” Hassan said, adding, “We had said the work will be finished in 24 to 36 hours and that is what we did.” He also said they did not charge any money for taking part in the rescue operation.