EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

World News

August 30, 2010

Trapped miners must move tons of rock to aid their own rescue


From the moment the mine collapsed Aug. 5, the trapped men have had a central role in keeping themselves alive — getting to the safety chamber, rationing food and keeping order with extraordinary discipline.

In video footage released by the government late Thursday, one of the miners says proudly that they will be helping with the operation, a sign that authorities have already prepared them.

Still, many questions remain. What physical and mental condition will the men be in when they are called on to help save themselves?

"We will keep them alive, in good shape and health," said Golborne. "That is something that is happening in parallel while we are digging the larger hole."

Other steps are being taken to keep the men as strong as possible — physically and mentally.

Telephone wire was being snaked down one of the bore holes on Sunday, and Golborne said that within a few hours one representative from each family would be allowed to talk to one of the miners — the first verbal communication they would have. Until now, handwritten notes have been passed through tubes send up and down the bore holes.

Physically, many of the men have severe skin irritations from the hot, wet conditions underground and were sent special clothing that dries quicker and also small mats to sleep on so they don't have to rest directly on the damp ground.

One of the miners, Johny Barrios, has some medical training and on Saturday vaccinated himself and his fellow miners against tetanus and diphtheria, health official Raul Martinez told the El Mercurio newspaper — another effort to keep the miners fit.

For now, the men have some time to prepare before they start the arduous task of hauling away the rock that stands between them and freedom, but questions remain.

Sougarret, the operation leader, said it will be one to two months before large quantities of rocks start falling. Can the men do such hard labor for a couple months just on food that will fit down the narrow tubes? And then there is what will be a harrowing rescue: each man will be pulled up through the 26-inch (66-centimeter) 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 that watched footage from the mine shelter said the men had lost a lot of weight.

Alberto Segovia said his brother, who is trapped in the mine, 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."

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