(Updates with quote from trapped miner, details)

By Alonso Soto

COPIAPO, Chile (Reuters) - Chilean miners who
survived 18 days after a cave-in received hydration gel and
medication through a narrow drill hole Monday, but officials
said it could be months before the men are freed.

In what relatives called a miracle, the miners Sunday
tied a note to a perforation drill that had bored a shaft the
circumference of a grapefruit to where they are located, 2,300
feet vertically underground.

The accident in the small gold and copper mine has turned a
spotlight on mine safety in Chile, the world's No. 1 copper
producer, although accidents are rare at major mines.

The incident is not seen having a significant impact on
Chile's output.

Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said rescue workers began
sending plastic tubes called "doves" containing glucose
solutions, hydration gels and medicine down to the miners to
keep them alive while they dig a new shaft to extract them.
That could take up to four months.

The miners have not been told how long it will take, but
they may only emerge from the mine at Christmas.

"We are well. We're waiting to be rescued," Luis Urzua,
shift leader at the mine, told Golborne by radio link as the
trapped miners applauded, cheered and sang Chile's national
anthem.

Golborne said the miners were in remarkably good condition
and spirits despite their ordeal. It is one of the longest
periods that trapped miners have survived underground.

"The wait is very different now," said Elias Barros, 57,
whose brother is among those trapped. "It is a wait free of
anguish. This isn't over, but we are much more hopeful it will
end happily."

Relatives wrote letters to send down the shaft to the
miners to help boost morale during the long wait ahead.
Golborne said relatives had joked he should send cold beer down
the drill hole.

Andre Sougarret, manager of state copper giant Codelco's El
Teniente mine, who is heading up the drilling effort, said
engineers would drill two other shafts. One would be to ensure
ventilation and communication in the coming months and another,
wider one to bring the miners to surface using a pulley.

Engineers are transporting a more powerful drill from
another mine and must decide where to bore the larger hole
without risking further cave-ins at the unstable mine.
Sougarret said it would take three to four months to drill the
extraction hole.

The miners are 4.5 miles inside the winding mine.
They sheltered in a sparse 540-square-foot
refuge, an area the size of a small apartment, which contains
two long wooden benches. They have now moved out into a tunnel
because of ventilation problems, Sougarret said.

WATER, VENTILATION SAVED MINERS

Tanks of water and ventilation helped the miners to
survive, but they had limited food supplies. Health officials
estimate they may have lost about 17.5 to 20 pounds
each. The men rationed out the provisions they had, eating two
mouthfuls of tuna and half a glass of milk every 48 hours, a
local senator said.

Rescuers lowered a television camera down the bore-hole
Sunday and some of the miners looked into the lens. Some had
removed their shirts because of the heat in the mine and
officials said they looked better than expected.

The miners used the batteries of a truck in the mine to
power lights and charge their helmet lamps.

"The miners are alive, but the job is not done yet,"
President Sebastian Pinera said in the capital, Santiago,
pledging to tighten labor safety regulations.

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

Analysts say the feel-good factor of finding the miners
alive, coupled with the government's hands-on approach, could
help Pinera as he tries to push through changes to mining
royalties that the center-left opposition had shot down.

As night fellSunday, jubilant relatives of the trapped
miners gathered with rescue workers around bonfires for a
barbecue, celebrating with traditional live music and dance as
a cold fog enveloped the mine head.

On Sunday night, thousands of Chileans honked their horns
and burst into applause at restaurants when they heard the
news.

"This was a 17-day nightmare," said 42-year-old miner
Sandro Rojas, whose brother, two cousins and nephew are among
those trapped. "When I see my brother, I'm going to tell him I
love him and smother him with kisses. To be honest, I don't
know if I'll be able to speak I'm so excited."

The government says the San Jose mine, owned by private
company Compania Minera San Esteban Primera, has suffered a
series of mishaps. Sixteen workers were killed in recent
years.

The miners' plight has drawn parallels with the story of 16
people who survived more than 72 days in the Andes mountains
after a 1972 plane crash. Their story was later made into the
Hollywood movie "Alive."
(Additional reporting by Antonio de la Jara, Simon Gardner,
Molly Rosbach and Juana Casas. Editing by Chris Wilson)