Chile miners still recovering a year on

2011-08-03 11:02

Copiapo - Most have travelled for the first time and some have tasted fame, but only a few of the 33 Chilean miners miraculously rescued one year ago after a disastrous cave-in have turned their lives around.

Invitations and offers of publicity poured in after the miners emerged from the San Jose copper and gold mine in northern Chile after 69 days trapped underground, in scenes watched by millions around the world on live television.

Seven of the 33 are still signed off on sick leave one year later, badly suffering from sleeping disorders, Alejandro Pino, a doctor from the Chilean Association of Security, said.

The rest "are living normal lives, while some are being treated for minor problems at home", Pino said.

But most of the miners say they are struggling to recover from the experience, with a large number still without stable work.

"Some have problems with their memories and they're suffering," said miner Luis Urzua, the head of shift on August 5 2010 - the day the mine collapsed - and the last freed in a dramatic rescue operation.

"We don't all have the same capacity to bounce back."

World united

Once outside, the world's media shone the spotlight on the group of men who survived more than two months about 700m underground in unbearable heat and darkness, barely eating for the first 17 days.

Since then, separately or together, they have travelled to more than 14 countries, rubbed shoulders with celebrities and accepted various invitations to recount their incredible tale of survival.

"This story united a world that wasn't used to these kinds of good things happening," Urzua said, one year on.

After the initial frenzy of activity, the last months have been relatively calm.

The first anniversary of the collapse - to be commemorated in a religious ceremony on Friday - finds them trying to rebuild their lives.

Most still live near the San Jose mine, in the city of Copiapo, about 800km north of the capital Santiago.


Many have sporadic jobs far removed from tough mining work, making the most of donations received since the rescue.

Fourteen asked for early retirement because they feel unable to return to work. The government is still studying the request.

Authorities also face a multi-million-dollar negligence case filed by the mine workers, who are each seeking $500 000 in compensation.

Urzua and co-workers Samuel Avalos, Jorge Galleguillos, Omar Reygadas and Claudio Yanez have all given motivational speeches and talks about security in the workplace.

But Mario Sepulveda - the most theatrical of the 33, who brought stones from the bottom of the mine as presents - and his wife have set up a company to give motivational speeches which this week sent him to the United States.

He also oversaw a campaign to build homes for people affected by a massive earthquake in Chile six months before the mine collapse.

On different paths

"It's been great for me because I'm hard-working and I know that you have to know how to make the most of circumstances in life," he said several months ago.

On a different path, Osman Araya and Dario Segovia both now sell fruit and vegetables in a Copiapo market.

Pablo Rojas, Claudio Acuna, Florencio Avalos and Victor Segovia braved a return to mining work, while Pedro Cortez is studying.

Franklin Lobos, a former footballer, now leads lower divisions of the Copiapo Sports soccer club while the only foreigner of the group, Bolivian Carlos Mamani, rejected a job at home and returned to Chile, where he is seeking stable work.

Yonni Barrios, famed for nursing his trapped companions, has tested positive for a harmful lung disease that is typical among miners.

The mine's owners, who have made public apologies, now face a trial and possible compensation and rescue costs of about $20m.

The victims have still not revealed exactly what happened inside the mine, but have created a company to protect and exploit the rights in films, books and other products.

Read more on:    chile  |  chile trapped miners  |  mining

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