Rajeev Das, a construction worker from Bengal, was about to enter his room after his night shift when one of his colleagues started shouting frantically.
It took him nearly a minute to realise that a part of the tunnel where he had been working until a few minutes ago had collapsed, trapping some of his colleagues.
Soon, everyone embarked on a frantic rescue mission. “We all rushed toward the tunnel entrance, about 300 metres from our temporary residence. Some went to find JCB drivers, and others searched for their friends on the night shift. Initially, we thought it might be a minor collapse, and began removing the debris however we could. But soon, we realised it was a challenging search and rescue (mission),” Das said.
He recalled there were around 50-60 workers of which around 10-20 were working closer to the exit. Hence, they exited soon after the shift ended. The ones who got trapped were the 40 who were inside. Of those trapped, 15 are from Jharkhand, eight from Uttar Pradesh, five from Odisha, four from Bihar, 3 from West Bengal, 2 each from Uttarakhand and Assam, and one from Himachal Pradesh.
“The thought that it could have been me does not leave my mind. We were working at the exact same spot where the collapse happened,” Das said. The workers have a 12-hour shift that changes every 15 days. Those on the night shift were to start their day shift on Tuesday.
There were apprehensions about the structure’s strength. “For the past two-three days, we have been feeling that perhaps, the structure is not very strong. Just a day before, when we were removing a lattice girder, we saw some debris falling. On Saturday night, a piece of concrete fell from the roof. We informed our seniors. But before they could do anything, the incident happened,” Das said.
Shashi Chauhan, a mechanical foreman at Navayuga Engineering — the company building the tunnel, said those trapped inside panicked initially. “But after continuous communication was established around midnight, and food was provided, they felt relaxed. There is enough light and space inside. They also have walkie-talkies and extra batteries,” he said.
Secretary (Disaster Management) Ranjit Sinha said they have directed National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd and contractors to inform the families of those trapped that the situation was under control and the workers were safe.