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India celebrates as 41 men are rescued from a tunnel after 17 days

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Now, some good news out of India, where 41 men were rescued from a tunnel in the Himalayas that caved in on them 17 days ago. The country is celebrating. NPR's Diaa Hadid reports from Mumbai.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: But today is a day to celebrate the light that has finally emerged at the end of a dark tunnel. The mission is 100% successful - 41 workers being pulled out one by one...

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Local media broadcast scenes of onlookers cheering and distributing sweets near the fallen tunnel. One rescued man was garlanded with marigold flowers. Men in hardhats took delighted selfies. Ambulances whooshed rescued men to hospital.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Ten ambulances have gone out, ferried out...

HADID: Several earlier attempts to free the men fell apart. Even so, rescuers managed to get a pipeline to them, supplying the men with oxygen, water, hot food and antidepressants. Fortunes turned last week when rescue workers bored dozens of feet through the mountain. They were just a few feet away from the men when the machine broke down. So for days, rescuers bored by hand through the final stretch. They installed a three-feet-wide pipe to pull the men out.

INDRAJEET KUMAR: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: Indrajeet Kumar, whose brother and cousin were trapped inside the tunnel, told NPR he was waiting to greet them. And barely an hour after the first man was pulled out...

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: It seems that the entire rescue operation is nearing its end.

HADID: ...All 41 men were free. Indian commentators were jubilant.

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UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR: And it's terrific news. It is a story that has captured the imagination of thousands and thousands of Indians, all of whom were praying for the rescue of these workers.

HADID: A team of international tunneling experts were also called in to help the Indian government. One of them, Albert Dix, earlier told NPR that this rescue was good news not just for India but the world.

ALBERT DIX: You've got the whole world all backing and coordinating with the Indians to get their children home. Whatever happens, that's the message that I think's so important. And it's one of hope, and it's one of good people doing good things.

HADID: Good people doing good things - this tunnel is part of a flagship project by the Hindu nationalist government to expand access to four sacred shrines in the Himalayas. But critics say the government didn't do proper environmental assessments in an area prone to avalanches, earthquakes and floods. Right now, the government's being feted for saving the men. It remains to be seen if they'll be held accountable for leading this project that led to the men being trapped.

Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Mumbai.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 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
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.