For hours until help arrived, they stayed that way – hanging on to iron bars protruding from the roof of the dark tunnel, hauling themselves up to stay above the icy cold water that had gushed in on Sunday morning.
The 12 people who were rescued from the under-construction output tunnel at the Tapovan-Vishnugad NTPC Hydel Power Project say they had no hope that they would survive, but a mobile phone proved a godsend.
“There is usually no mobile network in the tunnel but on Sunday, we got it for two minutes, enough to make a call to one of our officers,” said Basant Bahadur, 26, one of the 12 rescued from the tunnel Sunday afternoon who are now recovering at the ITBP Hospital in Joshimath.
The tunnel is a few metres ahead of the main 1,900p-metre tunnel at Tapovan, in which around 35 people are believed to be still stuck.
Among the 12 who were rescued is geologist K Sriniwas Reddy, 50. “The weather was clear on Sunday after two days of rain and snow, and it was not like it had rained a lot. We never anticipated this. We heard people call out, asking us to get out. We tried to run out but it was too late. The water and debris came gushing in and all 12 of us were stuck. We tried to save ourselves by holding onto iron bars,” Reddy said from his hospital bed.
As they waited for help to arrive, the only way they could survive was by hanging on to the iron bars on the ceiling of the tunnel. “The tunnel was 3 metres wide and 6 metres high. Water…