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Trapped miners in Chile are alive
Authorities say operation to rescue 33 miners could take up to four months.
Last Modified: 23 Aug 2010 14:30 GMT


The miners are trapped 700 metres underground in a small emergency shelter with food, water and oxygen

Sebastian Pinera, the Chilean president, has said that all 33 miners trapped underground for the past 17 days are still alive.

Pinera announced on Sunday that the trapped miners had made contact through a written note attached to a drill that signalled the good news.

"All 33 of us are well inside the shelter," Pinera read, waving a message scribbled in red pencil sent by the miners 700 meters (2,300 feet) below the ground.

"This came out of the ground. It's a message from our miners telling us they are alive, that they are together."

Relief

His words were met by a roar of cheers, as friends and families wept and hugged each other in relief after days of fading hopes.

Until Sunday, there had been no word from them and hopes for their survival were fading.

The miners have been trapped since the collapse of a small gold and copper mine near the northern city of Copiapo on August 5.

"It would take at least four months of drilling to reach and bring out the trapped miners"

Andres Sougarret, chief engineer of rescue effort

Mine officials and family had hoped the workers were able to escape to the shelter when the walls collapsed but there were fears that air and food supplies would be limited.

Despite the dramatic breakthrough, the chief engineer in charge of the rescue operation, Andres Sougarret, said it would take at least four months of drilling to reach and bring out the trapped miners.

Pablo Fernandez, a journalist in the Chilean capital, Santiago, told Al Jazeera that rescue effort was far from over.

"The next step is to establish direct contact with the miners who have been trapped for 17 days.

"In the next few hours, the authorities hope to have audio and video of the workers, also clean water, medicines and a special nutritional gel will be sent down the shaft."

Authorities concur that it could take up to 120 days to dig a new tunnel to rescue the miners.

Public pressure

Fernandez said that the note which was taped to a drill had brought relief to government officials who had been under severe pressure from the public.

"This represents a big relief for the Chilean government who have been under mounting pressure from family members and relatives of the trapped miners, because they thought that not enough was being done."

 The Chilean President said the entire nation was elated to receive the good news. [AFP]

President Pinera has sacked top officials of Chile's mining regulator and vowed a major overhaul of the agency in light of the accident.

"Obviously, there is a degree of happiness," a beaming Mining Minister Laurence Golborne told state television from the mine entrance, where relatives of the trapped men have been camped out for over a fortnight.

"I thank the miners for their bravery, for their courage in holding out more than two weeks in the depths of the mountain," Pinera said.

"They'll come out thin and dirty, but whole and strong, because the miners have shown they have courage and mettle, which is what has kept them together."

Serious mining accidents are rare in Chile, but the government says the San Jose mine, owned by local private company Compania Minera San Esteban Primera, has suffered a series of mishaps and up to 16 miners have lost their lives in recent years.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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