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In the Himalayas, 41 workers remain trapped after a tunnel caved in

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This next story takes us to the north of India, to the Himalayas, where 41 workers were digging a tunnel that collapsed. More than a week later, they're still trapped. NPR's Diaa Hadid reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Shifting focus now to some distressing news coming to the fore. And this is from Uttarkashi, where part of an under-construction tunnel has collapsed. Rescue teams have been rushed there.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: That was eight days ago. And despite initial reports that the 41 men trapped inside could be freed quickly, they're still stuck.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINE WHIRRING)

HADID: Footage shared by Indian media outlet ANI showed heavy machinery surrounding the tunnel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINE WHIRRING)

HADID: But multiple attempts to rescue the men have stalled amid fears that more drilling in the wrong place could cause more of the tunnel to cave in on the men. So far, though, rescue workers are managing to send in food, water and even antidepressants to trapped laborers through a small pipe. Multiple agencies are working on the rescue alongside global experts like Arnold Dix, who was flown in by government helicopter. Dix as president of the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association. He spoke to local media.

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ARNOLD DIX: We're going to get those men out. From what I've seen, there are great, great work being done. And we're going to find the solution, and we're going to get them out.

HADID: Dix followed up in a LinkedIn post Monday saying that multiple complicated rescue efforts were underway, including workers building an emergency mini tunnel. It's not clear why the tunnel collapsed. It's part of an ambitious road network begun by the current Hindu nationalist government to connect four major shrines in this hilly Himalayan area. It's also meant to create better access roads for the Indian military to reach the border with China. But some environmentalists and other experts have been critical of the plan. They say this area is prone to landslides, earthquakes and floods, and that heavy roadworks could trigger more disasters. Dix, the tunnel expert, says an earthquake that struck three days ago might be a clue. Akash Negi's father is one of the workers trapped inside the tunnel.

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AKASH NEGI: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: He says he fears the tunnel collapsed because workers were ordered to raise a shrine that stood near the tunnel entrance earlier this month to allow for further construction.

Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Mumbai.

(SOUNDBITE OF U-ZHAAN AND BIGYUKI'S "RESURRECTION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.