Tunnel rescue mission discussed at Cabinet meet; PM was very emotional: Thakur

New Delhi: The Uttarakhand tunnel rescue mission came up for discussion during the meeting of the Union Cabinet on Tuesday night, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi was “very emotional”, Union minister Anurag Thakur said on Wednesday.

Briefing reporters on the decisions taken by the Union Cabinet, Thakur said there was “whole of government” approach and every effort was made to save every life.

Amid election campaign, the prime minister used to get updates at least twice a day from various sources, including Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami, he said in response to a question.

But many said knowing they were not forgotten, and would be soon pulled out, was what really kept them hopeful and strong. “For the first day or so, everyone inside was very hopeless and sad,” worker Birendra Kishku, 39, told Reuters. “We didn’t know if anyone outside knew we were trapped.”

“But when they reached us through the pipe, we got to know what the government was doing to bring us out,” he added. “Me, my family and our entire village is very happy now.” Worker Subodh Kumar Verma also said that knowing that a major rescue operation was underway gave him solace and hope.

“I am fine now. It is because of your prayers, and the hard work of the government that I was able to come out,” he added. Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to the men by phone late on Tuesday and a video clip of the conversation showed the men sharing their experience with him.

“We lived like brothers,” Saba Ahmed, a worker of the private firm contracted to build the tunnel, told Modi. “I would tell the workers that we are eating, drinking but have no work so let us do some yoga, go for morning walks to stay fit,” he said.

The tunnel is part of the $1.5 billion Char Dham highway, one of Modi’s  most ambitious projects aimed at connecting four Hindu pilgrimage sites through an 890-km network of roads. Authorities have not said what caused the cave-in but the region is prone to landslides, earthquakes and floods.

Sukanti Nayak, the mother of worker Rahy, said her son was the one telling her not to worry. “When I first talked to him when he was inside I cried,” she told Reuters. “My son was consoling me, telling me not to worry and assuring me that they would soon come out.”

“We are eagerly waiting for him to return home.”