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Media mayhem mars family's joy at Chile mine rescue

By Gael Favennec

SAN JOSE MINE, Wednesday 13 October 2010 (AFP) - The joy of family members of the first miner to be rescued in Chile Wednesday turned suddenly to horror when hundreds of journalists trampled their humble tent in a mad rush to speak to them.

The chaos and jostling marred what had been a celebratory moment shared by the relatives of Florencio Avalos, the 31-year-old miner who was the first of the 33 to be winched to the surface.

Moments before Avalos stepped out of the rescue cage to hug his son and wife, and President Sebastian Pinera and other officials, the family had been surrounded in their tent on all sides by walls of cameras and journalists.

But when Avalos appeared on the television they were watching, to cheers, applause and horns throughout the camp where the miners' families were staying, the news workers rushed forward as one to capture the historic moment.

Avalos's father Alfonso, tears running down his face, said: "It's a huge joy. I'm so happy."

Then, as Alfonso hugged his wife Maria Silva, things turned ugly.

Reporters pushed and shoved to be the first to interview them, pulling on the hair of those in the way, throwing punches and almost knocking others to the ground.

The family retreated, and a frightened-looking Maria angrily hit out at journalists close to her with the Chilean flag bunched in her hand.

But the media mob, five-deep, kept advancing, crushing furniture and finally toppling the family's humble tent.

Two Chilean police officers watched from nearby but did not step in.

Finally, the media crowd dispersed.

The mayhem stood out in an otherwise generally festive occasion in which families and reporters alike shared the euphoria of seeing the miners emerging one by one from the earth.

But it was also revealing of the media pressure that has built up around the 33 miners, who have become national icons in Chile, and internationally famous.

Camp Hope, as the camp at the entrance to the fateful mine has been baptized, was home to a couple of hundred relatives of the miners when the accident first occurred trapping them August 5.

As the rescue neared, the number of relatives swelled to 800 -- but was quickly dwarfed by around 2,000 media employees who arrived from around the world to cover the momentous event.

As the rescue began, many of the relatives watched from the safety of an official tent, but a few preferred to stay in Camp Hope where they were far outnumbered by the reporters.

While the reporters managed civil cohabitation and even cooperation most of the time, intense competition to deliver the story sharpened elbows quickly overnight.

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Photo story:
Seeing light again

MySinchew 2010.10.13


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