Living in the dark

Miners trapped underground for months to come

By: Alyssa Tremblay

A mining accident in Chile has left 33 men trapped 700 metres below the earth’s surface, after the roof of the San José copper-gold mine collapsed early this August.

The presumed to be dead miners were found alive 17 days after the mine caved in.  The drilling of a rescue shaft to extract the miners began last week, while work on a second tunnel started this past Monday; however, officials estimate that it could take up to four months to safely reach the men.

“We must work very carefully because if we create a new collapse it will put rescuers at risk and harm the ability to get people out quickly,” said Chile’s labour minister Camila Merino, as quoted by BBC news.
The miners, ranging in ages from 19 to 63, are currently living in a cramped underground shelter “the size of a small U.S. apartment,” according to CNN, who also reported that the shelter is “damp and hot with little air circulation.”  As a result, many of the men are suffering from fungal infections and body sores.

Until the rescue shaft is completed, efforts are focused on keeping the men, who have so far lost an estimated 22 pounds each, both physically and mentally healthy.  Food, water and medical supplies are sent from the surface daily through small, eight centimetre in diameter boreholes, along with mp3 players, books, and a small video player to watch football matches.

At the request of the Chilean government, a team of experts from NASA have been sent to manage the particular nutritional and psychological needs of the trapped miners, as well as help “design the conveyance — a cage or a capsule to be equipped with oxygen, light and communication abilities — that will be used to hoist the miners to the surface,” according to one CNN story.

Footage from inside the shelter shows that the men have formed a democratic underground community in which daily meetings are held and issues are voted on by consensus.  The oldest miner has taken the roleof spiritual leader, while another miner with medical training acts as a doctor to the group.

BBC reported that Alejandro Bohn, the owner of the collapsed San José mine, has apologized to the miners and their families, saying that “the pain caused by this unwanted and unforeseen situation means we must ask forgiveness for the anguish being felt at this time.”  This statement came after Chilean courts passed a ruling to freeze the assets of Mr. Bohn’s San Esteban mining firm “to cater for compensation claims by the miners’ families.”

Last Saturday, fibre optic cables allowed the miners to communicate with their families for the first time via video conference.  One miner’s son told the BBC that speaking to his father “had raised spirits.”
“’We told him: We love you, we are waiting for you here, keep your spirits up.’”

The trapped men were told that it will be a while before rescue efforts will reach them, but have not been given an exact date.

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