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Trapped miners will have to help dig themselves out

The 33 trapped Chilean miners who have astonished the world with their discipline a half mile underground will have to aid their own escape -- clearing thousands of tons of rock that will fall as the rescue hole is drilled, the engineer in charge of drilling has said.

After drilling three small bore holes to create lines of communication with the miners and deliver basic food and medicine, Chile's state-owned Codelco mining company will begin boring a rescue hole today that will be wide enough to pull the men up through 2,300 feet (700 metres) of earth.

The first step will be to drill a "pilot hole" similar in size to the other three. Then much larger machine cutters will slowly grind through that hole, forcing crushed rock to fall down into the mine shaft area near the trapped men.

In all, the trapped miners will have to clear between 3,000 and 4,000 tons of rock, work that will require crews of about a half-dozen men working in shifts 24 hours a day.

The men have basic clearing equipment, such as wheel barrows and industrial battery-powered sweepers, operation leader Andres Sougarret said. But some questions remain.

Can the men do such hard labour for a few of months just on food that will fit down the narrow tubes? Then there is what will be a harrowing rescue: each man will be pulled up through the 66cm hole in a tube, a ride that will take about an hour each.

Psychologists have been called in to help the men cope, and families said the men had lost a lot of weight after watching footage from the mine.

Alberto Segovia said his brother, who is trapped there, had already lost more than 15 pounds.

"He looked sad," Segovia said, reflected a bit, and then added that his brother also "looked determined to survive."

hnews@herald.ie


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