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Trapped miners in Chile face long wait

August 23, 2010 | 12:20 pm

Chile president miners note

Chilean miners trapped 2,300 feet underground since Aug. 5 signaled that they were alive and relatively healthy on Sunday, but freeing them from the collapsed mine could take up to four months.

"We are fine, the 33 of us in the shelter," read one the notes sent up a drilled hole about as wide as a grapefruit.

A beaming President Sebastian Pinera held the note aloft for news cameras and relatives gathered at the small gold and copper mine in Chile's far north. The privately owned mine, called San Jose, is near the city of Copiapo in the desert region of Atacama.

Rescuers were able to lower a video camera into the shaft but no audio link. Grainy black-and-white footage showed the dazed eyes of a single miner. Authorities are now working to get the miners glucose, enriched mineral water, and medicines, as well as microphones to establish communication.

Cheers, weeping, and celebrations followed at the mine and across Chile when the news spread. The miners' note has reignited a sense of national unity in Chile similar to the coming-together that swept the country after the devastating 8.8-magnitude earthquake of Feb. 27, as the internationally known Chilean television personality Don Francisco told CNN Chile (video link in Spanish).

On Monday, Pinera warned that those responsible for the San Jose mine's collapse would face consequences and promised an overhaul of the country's mine regulations (link in Spanish). Mining accidents are relatively rare in Chile, the world's largest producer of copper. An explosion at the San Jose mine killed three workers in 2007, which led to the mine's temporary closure, reports said.

The eldest of the trapped miners, 63-year-old Mario Gomez, also wrote a letter to his wife that was sent up to the surface. It said in part: "This company has got to modernize. [...] But I want to tell everyone I'm OK, and am sure we will survive."

— Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: President Sebastian Pinera holding the San Jose miners' note. Credit: Hector Retamal / Associated Press

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