(Updates with drill hole reinforced, supplies to be sent)
By Alonso Soto
COPIAPO, Chile, (Reuters) - Rescue workers Monday
reinforced a small drill hole to serve as an umbilical cord to
33 miners found alive 17 days after a cave-in in Chile's far
north and say it will take months to dig them out.
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 the refuge where they are
sheltered, 2,300 feet vertically underground.
The accident in the small gold and copper mine has shone a
spotlight on mine safety in Chile, the world's No. 1 copper
producer, although accidents are rare at major mines. It is not
seen having a significant impact on Chile's output.
Mining Minister Laurence Golborne told Reuters rescue
workers would send down plastic tubes containing glucose,
hydration gels, liquid nutrients and medicine to the miners
through the drill hole to keep them alive while they dig a new
shaft to extract them -- which could take up to four months.
"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
Relatives wrote letters to send down the shaft to the
miners to help boost morale during the long wait ahead.
Andre Sougarret, manager of state copper giant Codelco's El
Teniente mine, who is heading up the drilling effort, said
engineers would drill two more shafts, one to ensure
ventilation and communication in coming months, and another
wider one to extract them via a pulley.
Engineers are transporting a more powerful drill from
another mine and must still decide where to bore the larger
hole without risking further cave-ins at the unstable mine. He
said it would take three to four months to drill the extraction
The miners are 4.5 miles inside the winding mine.
They are sheltered in a sparse 50 square meter refuge, an area
the size of a small apartment, which contains two long wooden
WATER, VENTILATION SAVED MINERS
Tanks of water, water from drilling machines and
ventilation shafts helped the miners to survive but they had
very limited food supplies. Health officials estimate they may
have lost about 17.5 to 20 pounds each.
Rescuers lowered a television camera down the bore-hole on
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 in better-than-expected condition.
The miners used the batteries of a truck in the mine to
power lights in the deposit and charge their helmet lamps.
"It will take time but it doesn't matter how long it takes
to have a happy ending," beaming Chilean President Sebastian
Pinera said after flying the mine on Sunday. Pinera has sacked
top officials of Chile's mining regulator and vows a major
overhaul of the agency in light of the accident.
As night fell on Sunday, 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.
Thousands of Chileans honked their horns across the country
on Sunday night, 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 local
private company Compania Minera San Esteban Primera, has
suffered a series of mishaps and 16 workers were killed in
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 Jackie Frank)