Miners develop micro-society as a way of 'retaining sanity'
The 33 miners trapped half a mile below the surface of the Atacama Desert in Chile have created a micro-society to stave off boredom and keep themselves sane as they prepare to shift 4,000 tonnes of rock to assist their rescuers.
The miners have each taken on roles within the underground world at the San Jose mine naming a 'priest', a 'doctor', a 'poet', a 'television presenter' and a 'foreman' within the group.
"They are completely organised," said Dr Jaime Manalich, Chile's health minister. "They have a full hierarchy. It is a matter of life and death for them."
The minister admitted that his worst fear was that one or more of the men could suffer a mental breakdown as their confinement drags on from weeks into months.
"The worst scenario would be if one of the men suffered severe psychosis for being trapped so long and attempted to claw their way out of the mine. As long as they are kept busy with defining roles we hope to avoid it."
Mario Gomez (62), the oldest member of the group, has taken on the role of spiritual leader and urges the men to pray daily in the makeshift chapel he has created in a corner of the subterranean chamber.
His job has been aided by 33 mini bibles and rosary beads for each of the men sent from the Vatican this week with a blessing from Pope Benedict XVI and lowered into the mine with the daily supplies of food and medicine. Another of the miners, Yonny Barrios Rojas (50) is using knowledge gained on a nursing course he attended in the mid-1990s to administer medicines, including vaccinations against tetanus, pneumonia and flu, and to perform daily health checks.
Victor Zamora has penned a poem describing the first 17 days they were trapped down the mine without contact with the outside world.
"It's a moving piece of work, especially from someone who until now had no inclination to write," said Alberto Iturra, a psychologist at the site.
"Each is finding their own role and their own way to express themselves and we think that is very healthy," he said.
One of the men showed a flair for being in front of the camera when he took on the task of narrating a 40-minute video showing the miners' life underground. Mario Sepulveda (39) coaxed shyer members of the group into appearing before the camera and gave a lively commentary of life deep in the bowels of the earth.
While engineers above ground continue the rescue operation to bore a 2,297-feet escape shaft to raise the men, the miners themselves have been told they will play a critical role in the rescue. The 33 miners must prepare themselves physically to ensure they are fit to work as the drill gets closer.
The men will need to move an estimated 4,000 tonnes of rock and earth that will fall into their chamber as the rescue shaft is cleared.
Luis Urzua, the 54-year-old leader of the shift, whose workers have been trapped since the rockfall on August 5, has mapped out the chamber in preparation for the mammoth job required in the final stages of the rescue, which could take as long as three to four months. He will also organise the men and oversee the work when the time comes. (© Daily Telegraph, London)