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Hopes and fears as Chile miners prepare for rescue

By Paulina Abramovich

SAN JOSE MINE, Monday 11 October 2010 (AFP) - Anxieties rose Monday hours before a risky operation to bring 33 miners back to the surface was to begin, ending a two-month nightmare for the men trapped deep in a Chilean mine.

The delicate and lengthy process of lifting each man out one-by-one will begin at around midnight Tuesday (0300 GMT Wednesday), according to Mines Minister Laurence Golborne.

"It would be wonderful if it was a little bit earlier, but we will take all the time we need," Golborne said after engineers successfully completed a first test of the specially designed rescue capsule to bring the men to the surface.

The men, 32 Chileans and one Bolivian, have been trapped underground since the San Jose mine gold and copper mine in northern Chile collapsed on August 5, blocking the exit.

The miners have set a new record for surviving such accidents, but as their planned rescue neared, they began to show signs of impatience and anxiety about the operation.

"He is anxious for the day to arrive when he leaves, like all his colleagues. They are praying to ease the tension," said Alberto Segovia, who spoke at the weekend with his brother Dario Segovia via videolink.

"He doesn't want to be the first, because he's afraid. No one wants to be the first. Can you imagine being brought up 700 meters?"

Another miner, Mario Gomez, was also "nervous, because of what they are all going through. There is a mix of heightened emotions down there, lots of anguish and joy," said Rossana Gomez.

Earlier Monday, after engineers had reinforced a new rescue shaft with steel tubing, the 53-centimeter (21-inch) wide rescue capsule was lowered down 610 meters (1,830 feet) for the first time in a successful dry run, Golborne said.

Each miner will be pulled up in a container barely wider than their shoulders, and it could take around an hour or more for them to reach the surface, meaning the whole rescue operation could last up to two days.

Some of the men were breaking out into a cold sweat at the thought of having to climb into the narrow capsule and be hauled to the surface by a system of pulleys and winches.

"He is very happy, but he is afraid of the capsule, and he has become very nervous," said Clarina Segovia, the sister of miner Victor Segovia.

But the miners and their families were eager to be reunited.

"We can't take it anymore, we want them with us right now," she said.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said he would join the families on Tuesday to wait for the men to emerge and Bolivian President Evo Morales was also expected at the site.

"The rescue is even closer than ever," Pinera said during a trip to Ecuador. "And I intend tomorrow, Tuesday to be with the families of the 33 miners to share this amazing moment."

Though officials have refused to say in what order the men will emerge, they have said the first group to exit will include some of the strongest men.

Those with chronic health problems including high blood pressure or respiratory ailments will go next, followed by a final group of healthy miners.

Before the rescue begins, two mining experts and two Marine nurses will go into the mine and determine in which order the men will come out.

The 33 will be checked by a doctor as soon as they emerge, and spend two hours getting emergency medical attention in a "stabilization zone" near the rescue shaft.

They will be allowed to meet with two or three of their relatives, before being transferred to Copiapo hospital by helicopter, where they will undergo a thorough medical evaluation expected to last at least two days.

The men have been trapped deep beneath the desert floor in a chamber the size of a living room.

In their subterranean shelter, they have spent the time exercising, praying, reading and working,

They are also being given special training by a journalist who is peppering them with complicated and indiscreet questions, in a bid to prepare them for the media circus awaiting them on the surface.

An estimated 1,700 journalists and camera crews from around the world have converged on the mine, hoping to capture the first images of the miners at the surface.

MySinchew 2010.10.12

 

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