New Hope Digs In For Trapped Miners

The 33 Chilean miners trapped deep underground may be brought to the surface as early as this week, more than a month sooner than anticipated.

REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

In Chile, rescuers appear close to ending the ordeal of the 33 miners who have been trapped underground for more than two months. Yesterday, a drill punched through to the space where the men are located, while family members and government officials celebrated above ground. Once rescuers start to lift the men out, it will take at least 48 hours to get all of them to the surface, perhaps longer.

But first comes another stage of preparation and a bit more waiting. Annie Murphy reports.

(Soundbite of generators)

ANNIE MURPHY: Camp Hope, the tent city that sits near the San Jose mine, has swelled in recent days. This baked, remote piece of earth is packed with campers and motor homes, tents, and people. And since one of the drills finally reached the miners, it's buzzing with activity. Press and government officials pour in and out of the camp; busloads of more family members and close friends are arriving, and the air vibrates with the sound of generators.

Like everyone here, Coralia Alarcon was thrilled to hear that the drill had reached the spot where her husband, Franklin Lobos, and the other miners are trapped. All the same, she says she's still nervous and won't be at ease until Lobos reaches the surface.

Ms. CORALIA ALARCON: (Spanish spoken)

MURPHY: She says, I don't want to be selfish, but I want him to be the first one out so that all of this can be over and we can rest a little.

(Soundbite of hammering)

MURPHY: But there's a lot to prepare before these men are out, from deciding the best way to keep the slender rescue pods, painted with the colors of the Chilean flag, from getting stuck, to little details.

Carpenter Jaime Navarro has been called in to rig dozens of platforms for the many film crews.

Mr. JAIME NAVARRO (Carpenter): (Spanish spoken)

MURPHY: He explains that the platforms are important for journalists to view the camp. And he slaps them together with informal gusto, a few bangs of a hammer and some nails.

The rescue, however, is a delicate task. There are a lot of variables that will determine its ultimate success. Everything has to be taken care of, right down to special sunglasses the men will need to wear as their eyes adjust to light after so much time underground. And even the miners are helping out with the operation. They spotted the drill as it entered the area where they're located, communicating with machine operators above to better control drilling.

Marcos Gonzalez is one of the people in charge of fuel supplies here. The government machines alone consume about 4,000 gallons of fuel each day. He's seen a lot of the rescue firsthand, including coordination with the miners themselves.

Mr. MARCOS GONZALEZ: (Spanish spoken)

MURPHY: The miners will try to keep clear of the spot where the capsule will need to land, he says, so that it can be sent in and out with out any problem.

Even if the rescue itself goes off without a hitch, it will be the culmination of a long, intense process for both the miners and their families and the start of what many see as a new chapter in their lives.

Wife of trapped miner, Franklin Lobos, Coralia Alarcon:

Ms. ALARCON: (Spanish spoken)

MURPHY: We're all human, she says, we all make mistakes. So, this time has made them all reflect. I think their lives are going to change. It's almost like birth, she says, as if they were in the uterus, with the lifelines of food and water as the umbilical cord. They're going to enter the world and they're not going to be the same.

The Chilean government has estimated that the rescue will begin on Wednesday, and hopes to have all the men above ground by Friday.

For NPR News, this is Annie Murphy, Copiapo, Chile.

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