One year on, famous Chile mine largely abandoned

2011-08-05 09:16

San Jose Mine, Chile – A year ago, a cave-in trapped 33 men deep inside this mine in northern Chile’s Atacama desert, and for the next two months the world’s attention was riveted on their rescue. Today it is remarkable only by how bleak and empty it is.

Gone is any trace of the makeshift tent city dubbed Camp Hope, home to nearly 3 500 people including relatives of the miners trapped 700m underground.

The 60cm wide hold where the miners were pulled out in mid-October, inside a single-person metal capsule, has been sealed by a thick cement plug.

The only trace of the three enormous excavators used in a frantic effort to drill a shaft to reach the trapped miners are concrete bases embedded in the dry, rocky ground.

“Weeks have gone by without visitors,” said Sergio, a site caretaker, told AFP.

Metal fences block the main entrance to the copper and gold mine and a sign warns “Danger – Do Not Enter”.

Work has ceased at the site because the owners, the San Esteban mining company, are being sued by the formerly trapped miners.

One of the last objects used in the rescue still in place is a machine that sent small capsules down a narrow borehole to the miners, carrying food and supplies and returning with letters – their only link to the outside world.

Jimmy Sanchez, the youngest miner and the fifth man pulled to the surface, is still coming to terms with his long underground ordeal.

“Inside I was more relaxed,” Sanchez (20) told AFP in an interview at his home in the nearby town of Copiapo.

“Now I’m weird. I’ve changed ... I used to be happier, I’d always go out, I liked to talk. I don’t go out any more, I feel lonely,” he said.

Sanchez had been working for only a few months at the San Jose mine when he was trapped by the cave-in.

Since his rescue Sanchez has travelled with his 32 comrades to the United States, Britain, Greece and Israel, accepting invitations to recount their incredible story of survival.

Doctors have been monitoring the health of the miners since their rescue, and in December Sanchez was declared healthy. Today he no longer sees a psychologist.

Sanchez wants to go back to working as a miner, but he hasn’t managed to get a job. “I like what I do,” he said.

Like all the other miners, Sanchez received a $10 000 (R69 200) gift from Chilean mining magnate Leonardo Farkas. What happened to the money? “I spent it buying things,” he says, clearly uncomfortable.

Sanchez’s father Juan has built a shrine of sorts memorialising the event in a room of their humble home, complete with magazine covers and newspaper stories recounting their incredible rescue.

The collection includes the dark sun glasses Sanchez wore when he emerged to the surface after some 69 days in the darkness; the heavy shoes he wore in the mine; a Chilean flag signed by his comrades; and the nearly 60 letters that Jimmy wrote while underground.

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