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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

At last, something to feel good about
Posted by Jill | 4:55 AM

President Sebastian Piñera embracing the miner Florencio Ávalos. (photo: Jose Manuel De La Maza/Chilean Presidential Press Office, via Associated Press)

This is Baby Jessica and the well writ large:
“The day has finally arrived,” said Marta Mesías, 51, the aunt of one miner, Claudio Yáñez, 34. “We’re going to toast him with champagne, and feed him a bit of roasted chicken.”

The operation is expected to take one to two days, with Luis Urzúa, 54, the shift leader who organized the miners’ lives in the mine, the last to come up.

The race to save the miners has thrust Chile into a spotlight it has often sought but rarely experienced. While lauded for its economic management and austerity, the nation has often found the world’s attention trained more on its human rights violations and natural disasters than on uplifting moments.

But the perseverance of the miners, trapped so far underground in a lightless, dank space, has transfixed the globe with a universal story of human struggle and the enormously complex operation to rescue them.

It has involved untold millions of dollars, specialists from NASA and drilling experts from a dozen or so countries. Some here at the mine have compared the rescue effort to the Apollo 13 space mission, for the emotional tension it has caused and the expectation of a collective sigh of relief at the end.

“We hope that with the help of God this epic will end in a happy way,” Mr. Piñera said before the rescue began.

Despite high expectations, officials here warned that the operation was still in a very precarious phase. The rescue hole is barely wider than the capsule that will ride inside it, shuttling the men about 2,000 feet to the surface, one at a time. Complicating matters, the hole is not even straight, raising fears that the capsule could snag on the long trip.


But the Chileans were in uncharted territory. To their knowledge, no one had tried a rescue so far underground. Keeping the miners alive and in good spirits, much less getting them out, would be an enormous challenge.

Doctors from NASA and Chilean Navy officers with experience in submarines were consulted on the strains of prolonged confinement. The miners had lost considerable weight and were living off emergency rations. Some, like Mr. Gómez, who had a lung condition, struggled with the high humidity in the mine.

Medical officials consulted frequently with the miners over a modified telephone dropped down through the skinny borehole. Slowly, they nursed the men back to health. Health Minister Jaime Mañalich enlisted Yonny Barrios, a miner who had once taken a first aid course, to administer vaccines and medicines, and to take blood and urine samples. All the medications traveled down through the plastic tubes sent through the boreholes.

The tubes, called “palomas” here, became the miners’ lifeline. Over the many weeks, officials on the surface used them to send letters from loved ones, food and liquids, even a small video projection system that the miners used to watch recorded movies and live soccer matches on a television feed that was piped down.

The miners were put on a diet to keep their weight down and worked with a trainer to keep fit with exercise. One miner, a fitness buff, ran about six miles a day through the winding shafts of the mine.

In recent weeks, Alejandro Pino, the regional manager of an insurance company for work-related accidents, has given the miners media training on how to speak and express themselves, even sending a rolled-up copy of his guidebook through the borehole.

You have to be impressed with the way Chile has handled this, especially the concern with the miners' well-being and preparing them for the onslaught of publicity that's sure to greet them when all of them are up and breathing fresh air again after two months underground. I can almost hear the inane questions being asked by Meredith Viera already, after the Today show flies the miners and their families up here for a stay at a swanky hotel and Broadway show tickets in return for the First! Exclusive! Interview! -- forgetting the herculean efforts made by the rescuers -- efforts that required the kind of brainpower and initiative that we don't even see in the U.S. anymore.

I can't help but think of the mine disasters we've had here in recent years, like the Sago mine disaster of 2006, and the Upper Big Branch disaster earlier this year -- disasters with high body counts bred by the greed of mine owners. Nine miners have died since Upper Big Branch. I have to wonder, if the same situation had occurred here in the U.S., would we be able to get the miners out? Would we have the patience, and would there be the will to spend the money? Would there be the will to hold mine owners responsible for the safety of their employees? It would seem not. We can't even build a tunnel under the Hudson River anymore, parallel to two tunnels that were built by men with shovels and dynamite.

For all those worldwide who have followed the plight of the trapped miners in Chile, today brings us a glimmer of joy that such things are still possible, that there is still some good in the world. Yet here in the U.S. the joy is tempered by the ominous feeling that this kind of perseverance, will, and expertise, is no longer possible in the country that still deludes itself that it's #1.
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Blogger jurassicpork said...
Especially the Chilean gov't, which stepped in when the mining company that owns the mine admitted they couldn't handle the rescue on their own.

Are we listening, Barry?

Anonymous Hari said...
OMG...I was soo happy to see this...God is GREAT...thanks to rescue team...