Trapped Chilean miners alive

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It was bad enough when tunnel in a Chilean copper and gold mine collapsed 17 days ago and stranded 33 men. It got worse when rescuers tried and failed seven times to drill down to an emergency shelter to try to make contact with the miners. Now, the men were found alive but there's a catch. It could take months to carve a tunnel big enough for them to get out. Jeb Sharp reports.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. A co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. Rescue workers and family members cheered when they got word yesterday that 33 Chilean miners are still alive. The men have been trapped for 18 days after a tunnel collapsed in the gold and copper mine. The challenge now is to keep the miners healthy and sane while a new tunnel is drilled to get them out. As The World's Jeb Sharp reports, that could take some time.

JEB SHARP: Rescuers had been trying to find the right spot for days before they finally managed to drill a hole more than 2,000 feet down to the miners. The miners then attached a note to the drill machinery letting people at the surface know they were alive and well. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera read the note and praised the miners.


SHARP: ?This came out today from the middle of the mountain,? Pinera said. ?From the deepest part of this mine. It's a message from our miners telling us that they are alive, united and are waiting to see the light of day and hug their families. I want to say that today all of Chile is crying with happiness and emotion.? If only that were the end of the story. [PH] Raul Soar is a journalist with Chilean television.

RAUL SOAR: It is a long time before we'll see those miners out. They say they might take three to four months to get them out from the mine, but in the meantime through that probe and they're making that tube a bit wider, they'll be able to send food and liquid.

SHARP: The miners are in a shelter the size of a small room. It contains two long wooden benches. They've been able to keep some lights going with a truck battery.

DAVITT MCATEER: We've had a miracle here and now we need to make sure that we can bring it to fruition.

SHARP: That's mining safety expert, Davitt McAteer. He says there are two immediate concerns. The mechanics of getting the men out and the psychological impact of their confinement. He says the former is relatively straightforward.

MCATEER: The [INDISCERNIBLE] thing is you've got to drill a hole. It is a ? you need about a 36 inch hole for getting people out of there. And you've got to do down 2,500 feet in effect.

SHARP: The psychological issues are a different challenge. McAteer says having 33 people stuck in a room together under incredibly difficult conditions is not unlike being in jail and creates enormous tension and pressure on individuals. But he's optimistic for these miners because they will be able to communicate with the outside world.

MCATEER: It's kind of a new era for rescue and for trapped people because we can send TV cameras down to them. We can send videos down to them. We can twitter them. And all of this stuff that had been available in the past will be available now and I think that's going to be an interesting new kind of thing because to divert their attention from the position that they're in.

SHARP: In fact, those above have already seen images of some of the miners after a video camera was lowered down the borehole yesterday. A team of doctors and psychiatric experts has now arrived at the site. Medical anthropologist [SOUNDS LIKE] Lauren Spalinkis has studied the psychological effects of long-term isolation and depravation. He says the biggest stress on these men will be not knowing when they're going to get out.

LAUREN SPALINKIS: With that uncertainty comes fear and anxiety, comes depression. And in the attempt to try and cope as individuals, many of these miners may seek to exhibit symptoms of withdrawal from the other members of the group. That itself can contribute to tension and conflict among group members.

SHARP: Spalinkis says leadership and social cohesion become incredibly important in situations like this.

SPALINKIS: One of the keys to minimizing group conflict and a maximizing individual coping and resilience will be the presence and the initiative of leaders within that group to keep them motivated, to keep them active and to keep them focused.

SHARP: Focused on maintaining some sort of routine to keep themselves sane while they wait. For The World, I'm Jeb Sharp.