Wednesday, September 29, 2010


On August 5th, in the San Jose copper and gold mine in Chile, as 33 men were working, the roof of the mine collapsed.

They were trapped 2, 230 feet underground. There were headlines around the world about the disaster, more doomful headlines every day that I read but didn't want to read.

I couldn't help wondering how 33 men could possibly survive the timeless days and nights in the dark -- their batteries would fade -- it was undoubtedly dark. Did they talk, pray, weep -- how did they deal with hunger and fear and thoughts of death -- how did they manage to sleep?

We have learned that the miners ate just every two days -- two spoonfuls of canned fish, a half cup of milk, half of a cracker and a little canned peach, trying to stretch their 48-hour food supply into rations to last perhaps 20 days.

Even when contact was made with them, it seemed to me (from the news reports, and articles I didn't want to read but read), almost hopeless.

Well, Chilean officials, NASA officials, psychiatrists, doctors, nutritionists are now supervising a huge rescue effort. After seven attempts, the over-sized drill brought in by a convoy of workers, helpers, experts, had to be replaced by a smaller drill. The mine with a fallen roof was dangerously unstable.

Right now, two smaller drills have made two bore holes that are sending food, equipment and supplies to the miners. They can communicate limitedly with their families and rescue workers.

The main space for the 33 miners is 800 square-feet -- too small, too poorly ventilated, for all the men to sleep there, so they sleep in nearby tunnels. There is no toilet so they use a tunnel that's also further away. The men have been told it could be two months, three -- they might be there until l Christmas.

We've been told they may be trapped underground longer than any other miners in history. I would think they are aware of that.

A third drill will begin boring a third hole soon. What the 33 miners need to survive is fit into grapefruit-sized canisters known as plomos ("doves") that are winched up and down the bored hole, twenty-four hours a day . Each canister is 3.19 inches wide.

Here's what the canisters deliver to the 33 miners: A daily 2000 calorie diet-- half is energy-packed nutrition shakes, half is foods like bread, ham and kiwis; five liters of bottled water per miner per day; vitamin D supplements, 250 times the usual daily dose to combat the lack of sunlight; they've received aluminum poles and canvas, to assemble 33 cots; toothbrushes, toothpaste, razors, and toiletries; waterproof shoes and lightweight clothing with copper fibers to resist bacteria and fungi; an iPod with speakers, not headphones, to encourage communal listening; head lamp batteries and other lighting equipment.

One of the miners happens to have medical training so he's got syringes for tetanus, diphtheria influenza and pneumonia vaccinations; the miners also have a camera and phone line, a fiber optic line to show sports on a 50 inch picture on the cave wall; also books, playing- cards, dominoes, and 33 mini bibles.

At first the 33 miners were dirty, and unshaved, now all are shaved and dressed in matching red football jerseys, autographed and contributed by Chile's winning team.

How did they fit jersey's into canisters? And an iPod? Water-proof man-sized shoes? Are we getting an accurate description about this stuff? I don't know ...

I know it must tense down there. the Youngest miner is 19 --how is he handling it? Mario, 62, the oldest, has set up a makeshift chapel; a work schedule (clearing rubble that's produced by the drills); a rule -- no one can eat till all 33 have received their food. Are there rebellions -- what happens when one of the miners is upset, angry, depressed, or the men argue with each other?

The men asked for cigarettes and wine -- no cigarettes, because of the ventilation problem. When they were told no wine, they rebelled by rejecting peaches. The NASA advisers related this to the small mutinies during Apollo 7, when the crew got colds and argued with flight controllers.

Marta Flores, a Red Cross worker at the makeshift camp (called Camp Hope), where relatives wait for news of their loved ones, said "We had a big bust up in the canteen tent when a wife came across a woman who claimed to be her husband's lover – we had to step in and pull them apart before things got physical." At stake are welfare packages issued to the families of the trapped miners as well as future compensation claims that could run into tens of thousands of pounds.

The men will be raised in a cage a little bit wider than their bodies. Riding to the surface could take 2 hours. It will take three days till all the men are out.

How will the last man feel when he's there alone?

I wonder, if we'll ever know how these men have managed to keep going through long, long empty days. And what about the sleep areas and bathroom area that are in nearby out-of-the-way tunnels? What about sex -- how are 33 men handling that, and the iffy future? They'll suffer post traumatic stress disorders ... will they go back to work in the mines, and if not, what will happen to them.

Will we be seeing interviews -- miners who've had 15 minutes of fame, IN HELL?
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