Soubhik Pakhira, 24, called up his mother, Joydeb Pramanik, 18, made a video call to his cousin, and Manik Talukdar, 51, called up his wife.
These were the first communications of the three workers from Bengal, minutes after emerging from the collapsed Uttarakhand tunnel, where they and 38 others were trapped for 17 days as hundreds of technicians and workers defeated every obstacle to make the rescue possible.
The trio from Bengal were among the 41 workers who were trapped on November 12 after the under-construction Silkyara tunnel in Uttarakhand collapsed.
As news of the rescue mission nearing completion spread on Tuesday, the trio’s family members stayed glued to television sets since afternoon waiting for footage of the trapped workers emerging alive.
“I can’t express my feelings in words when I saw on TV two of the workers coming out of the tunnel. Around 50 people had gathered at our home and everyone started shouting in joy. My sisters blew conch shells. Finally, my son called me up,” said Soubhik’s mother Lakhsmi Pakhira of Harinkhali village in Pursurah, Hooghly.
“I cried in joy when I heard my son say he was fine. I almost had no food or sleep for the past 17 days,” wept the mother of the diploma engineer.
Similar scenes of joy and relief unfolded at worker Joydeb’s home at Nimdangi village in Hooghly’s Pursurah or at electrician Manik’s home in Cooch Behar village Chekadera Gendarpar, which are separated by around 680km.
“He (Manik) called me from the phone of one of my relatives who was on the spot. I told my husband we all have been praying for 17 days to see him emerge unharmed,” said Manik's tearful wife Soma.
Teenager Joydeb, whose village is barely 5km away from Soubhik's, made a video call to his cousin immediately after his rescue.
Worrying about her son, Joydeb’s mother Tapati had taken so ill that she was bedridden for the past four days. The news of Joydeb coming out seemed to be just the medicine she was waiting for. On Tuesday, Tapati finally sat on her bed.
She was still too ill to speak to her son, family sources said. But Joydeb’s uncle and cousin did.
“The video call did not last for even a minute... he was busy. He just informed us that he and all the 40 others were safe. We don’t know if the government will arrange their return home. We thank all who helped bring them out,” said Joydeb’s uncle Tarun Pramanik.
On Tuesday afternoon, the state government sent a three-member team to Uttarakhand to bring back the trio.
“Have rushed a team to Uttarkashi for helping our people. The team, led by Rajdeep Dutta, Liason Officer, Office of the Resident Commissioner, New Delhi, will help evacuation and safe return of the trapped workers in the tunnel at Silkyara, Uttarkashi to their homes in West Bengal,” chief minister Mamata Banerjee wrote on her X handle.
The team reached Dehradun on Tuesday night. It will head for the tunnel site on Wednesday morning.
Leader of the Opposition Suvendu Adhikari slammed the chief minister for allegedly responding late.
“Good to know that you (referring to Mamata) woke up so early,” Adhikari said.
The BJP Nandigram MLA also thanked all those involved in the rescue operation.