Miners’ morale leaps as rescue drill inches closer

2010-09-02 07:36

Copiapo, Chile. – The morale of 33 miners trapped in Chile soared after music and hot meals were supplied, while Nasa advisers praised their “courage” and provided advice on daylight deprivation, as a rescue drill inched closer.

Drilling was paused yesterday afternoon to shore up the new shaft’s wall with cement, after a minor geological fault was detected in the rock, the rescue operation’s chief engineer Andres Sougarret said.

A new video shot by the miners and broadcast on state television late on Tuesday showed the men shaven, wearing clean clothes and listening to a tropical tune.

The miners have now spent 27 days in the San Jose mine in northern Chile, which collapsed on August 5 – a feat of subterranean survival unprecedented in modern memory.

A team of Nasa experts who arrived at the mine yesterday to convey the US space agency’s experience in keeping men sane and healthy during prolonged isolation hailed the Chilean miners’ resilience.

“We are very impressed with the courage and the organisation the miners provided for themselves in these very difficult circumstances,” said James Michael Duncan, Nasa’s deputy chief medical officer.

The machine ground to a halt yesterday when it came across a fault that required the shaft walls to be reinforced with concrete.

“We have to pour the cement in the daytime so we can continue drilling non-stop at night. That’s what we’re doing and later the machine will resume its work,” Sougarret said, adding that finding faults in the first 100m was not unusual.

The miners are stuck 700m below the surface waiting for the machine that can excavate up to 20m per day – and for the initial shaft being drilled to be doubled in diameter to permit each one to be pulled up.

The ambitious task, code-named Operation San Lorenzo after a martyred Christian saint, is going on in parallel with a programme of careful medical and psychological care for the miners.

Water, food and other supplies were being dropped through three fist-sized shafts drilled to the men.

Authorities have started vaccinating the trapped men against tetanus, diphtheria, flu and pneumonia to prevent outbreaks of disease.

A medical report on Tuesday said five miners were still having difficulties digesting and psychologically “there are a few cases of sleeping problems.”

The men have also moved to a drier spot about 300m deeper inside the mine because some were developing fungal infections and body sores in the hot, dank area.

The miners, who were found alive August 22, have located four sources of water, two of which have been deemed fit for human consumption.

“The most important thing we’re doing right now from the psychological point of view is to simulate conditions of day, night, and separating the space where they’re living into zones,” Health Minister Jaime Manalich told reporters.

Each day, the miners awake at 7.30am and breakfast on sandwiches and yoghurt or milk. They then clean up before reporting in via intercom to the medical supervision unit on the surface or listen to an update given by their leader, Luis Urzua.

After lunch, group discussion is held, and a space is set aside for the reading of letters from families and to write replies. Dinner is eaten at 8.00pm, and the miners go to sleep between 10.00pm and 11.00pm.

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