More miners in Chile reach surface

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LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World. The rescue operation to lift 33 trapped miners in Chile to the surface has been going on all day today. One by one, the men are being hoisted up the rescue shaft. It's a distance of more than 2,000 feet. And each miner's arrival is being greeted by a fresh wave of cheers. The BBC's Gideon Long is at the mine site in Chile. He says it's been a remarkably smooth, and fast, rescue operation.

GIDEON LONG: It seems to be going more quickly than expected. Over the first few ascents, the capsule was taking around an hour in total to bring each man out of the ground. That speeded up. It's now running at about half an hour, 45 minutes. So the whole process has been speeded up and the government says that it hopes to get the last man out of the ground before the end of the day.

MULLINS: Okay, and you've been there all day. Presumably, you're going to be there all night. What is it like to be there at all?

LONG: It's an amazing atmosphere. It really is. I've actually been here for the best part of six weeks now, so I've seen the camp just grow and change and evolve and it's quite an amazing sight now. You just come around the corner as you drive up here, you're in the middle of nowhere in the Atacama Desert, and suddenly you're hit by this camp. Just a hive of activity. Around two and a half thousand people now here we're told. Around half of them journalists from across the world. So, quite an amazing place. And it's been an amazing operation to witness as well. We were told, for example, that we wouldn't get to see the miners when they were reunited with their families, that that would be a private event, but actually we've seen it. They've stepped out of the capsule and there, right there, are the members of their family, so it's been quite an emotive thing to watch.

MULLINS: And it's interesting because when they do surface, some of them have such a different reaction from others. Some are much more energetic and ebullient and other are more quiet and solemn and even if some cases, prayerful. I wonder for you if there's any particular moment or image that strikes you as being especially memorable.

LONG: I think for me it would be the first two miners who came out, Florencia Avalos, the first one and Mario Sepulveda, the second. The first one because we really just didn't know exactly what these men would look like when they stepped out. I was wondering if they would actually be able to walk unaided. Whether they would need assistance. And Florencio Avalos stepped out and he looked as though he'd been in underground for about an hour maybe rather than 69 days. Quite amazing. And then, of course, Mario Sepulveda, the second miner to come out. He's always been the showman of this group. He's the one who's been compeering their videos from down below and he stepped out and as you probably say, he brought up with him from below, a bag of rocks which he handed out to the rescue team as souvenirs. And then he punched the air and he stated chanting with the rescue workers. So I think for me, those two first men out, they will be the images that I'll remember from this story.

MULLINS: Gideon, I have to say [SOUNDS LIKE] externals, of course, don't tell the whole story here, but how is it that these guys look so good?

LONG: Well, I guess they've been on a good diet to keep them in shape before they come up to the surface. They haven't had any alcohol for two months now which has probably done them no harm as well. And they've had fewer cigarettes than I suspect most of them would normally smoke. They have had cigarettes, but they've been rationed. So, it's probably done their health no harm in some way. We are told, of course, that some of them have dental problems, skin problems. I think the final thing is they've probably been preparing for this moment. They knew that they were about to step out into the gaze of the world media, so I don't know, I guess they've been sprucing themselves up down below, making themselves look their best for the big moment.

MULLINS: Yeah, it's funny to think that they're shaving down below underground and meanwhile people up above ground are having their hair done and getting manicures.

LONG: That's right. I mean that was one of the things that struck me when the first miners came out. All of them clean shaven. They looked far more presentable than most of the journalists who've been camped here for the last few days, I can tell you.

MULLINS: I'm sure you're excluded, but maybe it's a good thing this is radio. One more question I have for you. Are the rescue crews themselves, as they continue to work on getting the remaining miners up above the surface, are they nervous that something could still hit a snag? Is there any reason to be concerned about any particular point in the rescue now?

LONG: Well, they're still sounding notes of caution, but I suspect they must be more and more confident as this operation goes on. They're still saying that there is, of course, the possibility that something goes wrong, but so far there have been no problems. It's interesting walking around the camp and talking to the relatives, too, because you get a very different picture depending on whether you're talking to those relatives whose miners have come out or those relatives who are still waiting for their miners to come out. If you talk to the first group, they're obviously joyous, they're celebrating. You talk to the second group, they're also elated by this whole story, but there's still a little bit of a tension there because they know their particular family member has not yet been brought to the surface.

MULLINS: Okay, hopefully before too long then. The BBC's Gideon Long at the San Jose mine in Chile. Thank you so much.

LONG: Thank you.