Wednesday 22 November 2017

Miners return to disaster site

Families join brave survivors for Mass of thanks

Fiona Govan in Camp Esperanza

Some of the rescued miners returned yesterday to the site where they endured 69 days underground, for a thanksgiving Mass with family and friends.

Not all felt ready to see the San Jose mine in the Atacama Desert, where 33 flags representing each of the men flutter on a hillside. Most stayed away.

"Ideally, they need a period of rest because they are still on emotional rollercoasters," Jaime Manalich, Chile's health minister said.

"They still have to process what they went through, to let their experiences settle, have their nightmares and let out their anxieties."

Around a dozen arrived with their families to visit Camp Esperanza -- meaning 'hope' -- the settlement where relatives held their vigil after the collapse sealed the gold and copper mine on August 5.

The men, still wearing sunglasses to protect their eyes after so long in near darkness, joined in prayers to give thanks for their rescue.

"It's a very beautiful experience to be here and see where our families were," said Luis Urzua, the foreman and last to come up.

But relatives reported that some miners were having trouble sleeping and were waking in the middle of the night believing they were still trapped 2,300ft below ground.

One member of Mario Sepulveda's family said: "He woke at 4am and went to the corner of the room saying it was his turn to wait for a dove."

He was referring to the communication tubes from the surface. The miner earned the nickname Super Mario, after the computer game character, following his jubilant arrival as the second man brought to the surface in the Phoenix rescue capsule. He has described how he is haunted by the "nightmare experience".

"We were in total darkness. The heat was oppressive. We all felt the Devil was down there with us. We prayed and prayed," he said.

"It was a dark, black hole. We were buried alive. We were all so scared. We begged God to help us.


"We were worried we would starve to death or that the water would run out and we would die horribly from dehydration."

But he dispelled rumours that an agreement by the men not to talk about the first 17 days, before contact with the outside world, was to hide any Brokeback Mountain type experiences.

"We were too busy trying to survive to think of sex," he said in reference to the film about cowboys who become lovers.

Edison Pena (34) dubbed "the runner" by his colleagues because of his daily five miles through the dark corridors, described how the exercise kept him alive.

"I wanted the mountain to get bored, seeing me run," he wrote in a letter to the surface.

"I am not defeated. I am fighting. I feel that by running I am fighting to live."

On Saturday, the triathlete began training for the New York marathon next month.

"I want to tell people we're alive and that you can do sport with little money," he said. "I want everyone to do sport."

Workers from the San Jose mine used the gathering to stage a protest complaining that they had not yet received wages or a severance package since it was closed. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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