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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - UTTARKASHI — When Chaudhary realized his son Manjit was one of the 41 construction workers trapped in the collapsed tunnel, he traveled almost 600km (372 miles) from his village in Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh, to be closer to him.
Chaudhary, 50, has been at the tunnel site for the past 11 days. He is staying with men who know his son and is sleeping in barracks made for the laborers.
Two years ago, he lost his eldest son in a construction accident in Mumbai. He says he cannot face the grief of losing another son.
“I pray to God... please don’t take this son away from me. All I want is that my son should be out. This is my prayer. This is my last wish.”
A landslide near Silkyara, a remote village at the foothills of the Himalayas, collapsed a portion of the tunnel two weeks ago, trapping the workers. The rescue has been delayed by a drilling machine breaking down.
Chaudhary, who goes by only one name, is one of several family members who have traveled here.
Chanchal Singh Bisht is from a neighboring village. His cousin, Pushkar Singh, 24, is also stuck in the collapsed tunnel.
Nervous when he first arrived at the site, Chanchal had no idea what to expect. When he was finally able to speak with Pushkar via walkie-talkie, he felt relieved.
“He said, ‘I am OK, you can go home. I will come home, I am safe in here, I have what I need in here.’“
For some families, the opportunity to speak with their loved ones inside is a lifeline.
One woman was walking down the road leading away from the tunnel, having just spoken with her husband. She did not give her name.
“He is worried,” she said, “asking how long he will be there and whether anything was happening [to get them out]. He’s not even eaten today.”
The men are getting regular food deliveries — daal, roti, vegetables and fresh fruit — through a small pipe, and officials say the group is in good health.
In the first days after the accident, on Nov. 12, Chanchal did not have much faith in authorities, saying he didn’t think they knew what they were doing. But seeing the progress earlier this week, he became more hopeful.
“I thought their initial plans were weak. Now they are working on [a] war footing and they should be out soon.”
But that was before the latest setback, on Saturday. The machine being used to drill a hole wide enough to allow the men to crawl through kept getting stuck and breaking on pieces of debris.
The machine has now broken down completely and cannot be repaired.
Rescue efforts are on hold until emergency crews can remove it from the tunnel, and then, instead of replacing the device, they will manually remove the remaining debris.
This is a major disappointment for authorities, who on Wednesday believed that the rescue was imminent.
In anticipation, four ambulances were parked at the mouth of the tunnel, with dozens more lining the narrow roadway leading to the construction site.
Removing the debris manually will take more time than if they were using a machine.
The chief minister of Uttarakhand, Pushkar Singh Dhami, was pressed by the media for some kind of timeline for when the men might get out. He instead reiterated that the government’s focus was getting them out safely.
As plans continue to evolve, family members like Chanchal and Chaudhary have no choice but to wait. Both are already thinking of what will happen when their loved ones are out.
“When we take him home, we will then celebrate Diwali,” said Chanchal. “Because he was in the tunnel for Diwali. So we will do it again.”
Chaudhary however, just wants to take his son into his arms.
“I’ll hug him, God has fulfilled my prayers, everyone’s prayers have been answered. But I can only say this when he is out. But I will be happy, everyone will be happy. He should just come home.” — BBC
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