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Supplies reach Chilean miners; now, the long wait

COPIAPO, Chile — Trapped nearly half a mile inside the earth and facing perhaps four months before rescue, 33 Chilean miners began accepting food, water and oxygen from above ground Monday as rescue teams worked to gauge their state of mind and brace them for the long wait ahead.

Through a newly installed communications system, each of the men spoke and reported feeling hungry but well, except for one with a stomach problem, a Chilean official said. They requested toothbrushes.

It was a positive sign, and Chile's president said the nation was "crying with excitement and joy" after engineers broke through Sunday to the men's refuge. It had been 17 days since a landslide at the gold and copper mine caused a tunnel to collapse and entombed them more than 2,200 feet below ground.

Still, doctors and psychological experts were trying to safeguard the very sanity of the miners in the months to come, and said they were implementing a plan that included keeping them informed and busy.

"They need to understand what we know up here at the surface, that it will take many weeks for them to reach the light," Health Minister Jaime Manalich said.

Engineers worked to reinforce the 6-inch-wide bore hole that broke through to the refuge, using a long hose to coat its walls with a metallic gel to decrease the risk of rock falling and blocking the hard-won passage through the unstable mine.

The lubricant makes it easier to pass supplies through in capsules nicknamed palomas, Spanish for dove. The first of the packages, which are about 5 feet long and take about an hour to descend from the surface, held rehydration tablets and a high-energy glucose gel to help the miners begin to recover their digestive systems.

Rescue teams also sent oxygen down after the miners suggested there was not enough air in the stretches of the mine that run below where the main shaft collapsed.

The shelter, a chamber off one of the mine's lower passages that is easily big enough for all 33 men, is far enough from the landslide to remain intact, and the men can also walk around below where the rocks fell. Actual food will be sent down in several days, after the men's stomachs have had time to adjust, said Paola Neuman of the medical rescue service.

Rescuers also sent down questionnaires to determine each man's condition, along with medicine and small microphones to enable them to speak with their families during their long wait.

Meanwhile, an enormous machine with diamond-tipped drills capable of carving a 26-inch-wide tunnel through solid rock and boring at about 65 feet a day was on its way from central Chile to the San Jose gold and copper mine, outside Copiapo in north-central Chile.

Supplies reach Chilean miners; now, the long wait 08/24/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 4:52pm]

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