33 trapped workers 'are hungry but well'
Published 25/08/2010 | 05:00
SINGING the national anthem in a full-throated chorus, 33 miners trapped deep underground thanked their rescuers and settled in for a long wait until a tunnel wide enough to pull them out can be carved through a half-mile of solid rock.
After parcelling out tiny bits of food and drinking water carved from the mine floor with a backhoe for 18 days, the miners were getting glucose and rehydration tablets to restore their digestive systems.
Capsules carrying oxygen also were sent down through a 15-centimetre bore hole to help the men survive the hot, stuffy conditions in the lower reaches of the gold and copper mine.
Meanwhile, the miners were sending up notes to their families in the same supply capsules, providing solace to people who have held vigil in the chilly Atacama desert since the August 5 collapse.
Their ordeal, however, is far from over.
Above ground, doctors and psychological experts are debating how to keep the miners sane during the estimated four months it will take to dig a tunnel large enough to get them out of the safety chamber 670 metres underground.
"They had two little spoonfuls of tuna, a sip of milk and a biscuit every 48 hours," said Dr. Sergio Aguilar, a physician on the rescue team.
Dr Aguilar did not say how long those meagre supplies lasted after the landslide that caused a tunnel to collapse inside the San Jose gold and copper mine north of Chile's capital, Santiago.
Earlier, each man spoke and reported feeling hungry but well, except for one with a stomach problem, a Chilean official said.
Actual food will be sent down in several days, after the men's stomachs have had time to adjust, said Paola Neuman of the medical rescue service.
The shelter is a living room-size chamber easily big enough for all 33 men, and the men also can walk around in tunnels below where the rocks fell. The temperature where they are is around 32-34C.
Rescuers also sent down questionnaires to determine each man's condition, along with medicine and small microphones to enable them to speak with their families.
Meanwhile, an enormous machine with diamond-tipped drills capable of boring at about 20 metres a day was on its way to the mine.
Just setting it up will take at least three more days
Besides dealing with the miners' immediate physical needs, rescuers were preparing psychiatric counselling.
The miners reported that a shift foreman had assumed leadership of the trapped men.
They already have been trapped underground longer than all but a few miners rescued in recent history.
Both the company that owns the mine, San Esteban, and the National Mining and Geology Service have been criticised for allegedly failing to comply with regulations.
The miners' relatives are suing and claim their loved ones were put at risk working in a mine known for unstable shafts and rock falls. Company executives have denied the accusations and say the lawsuits could force them into bankruptcy.