Chilean Crews Put Finishing Touches On Escape Shaft

The first extractions of the 33 trapped miners in Chile are expected to begin on Wednesday as engineers and crews put the finishing touches on an escape shaft. The shaft was completed Saturday and rescuers determined only the top few hundred feet of the escape tunnel needed to be reinforced with a steel sleeve.

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In Chile, rescuers expect to finish work today on the shaft that will bring the 33 trapped miners to safety after more than two months underground. The plan calls for bringing them to the surface one by one, starting tomorrow or possibly on Wednesday. The men themselves are so excited, they've been talking about the order they'll go up. Above ground, their families are getting ready for a joyous reunion.

Annie Murphy is in Copiapo.

ANNIE MURPHY: Right now, there are about 2,500 people pressed together in the tiny camp near the mouth of the San Jose mine, just a speck in the middle of the Atacama Desert. But even with the influx of people, the energy here is noticeably brighter. Families are increasingly confident that their loved ones are going to get out. Everyone seems more laid back, like this group of kids playing volleyball.

(Soundbite of bouncing ball)

MURPHY: Camp coordinator, Pamela Leiva.

Ms. PALA LEIVA (Coordinator, Camp Hope): (Spanish spoken)

MURPHY: The anxiety has gone down, she says. I believe that now, the people who are the most nervous are the miners, because they're about to go through a huge change. And since families feel more confident in the upcoming rescue, they're starting to think about the future: what happens once these men are above ground, how they will welcome them and how they will get back to their everyday lives.

Marta Flores is with the Red Cross, and has been spending time with the families.

Ms. MARTA FLORES (Red Cross): (Spanish spoken)

MURPHY: She says: They're getting their houses ready. Each of them will be waiting with their own sort of welcome. Those who are living in the camp are already packing up their things to leave. The families have a lot to organize for their trip home, says Flores, but that's not all.

Ms. FLORES: (Spanish spoken)

MURPHY: A lot of the women have already gone to the salon, she says. They're getting pretty, buying nice things and, even surrounded by journalists and noisy generators, many families are beginning to reflect on what exactly this time has meant for them here in the camps.

Pamela Lobos is the niece of miner Franklin Lobos.

Ms. PAMELA LOBOS: (Spanish spoken)

MURPHY: Lobos says that after this ordeal, her family is going to be closer. Before, she says, we'd see each other in passing, but it was nothing like it is now. We've cried together, gone through a lot of emotions.

And these families are also involved in a lawsuit, a process that will continue long after Camp Hope is gone. They've filed claims against the mine owners for the dangerous conditions, and the Chilean government, for not regulating the mining industry here.

Pamela Lobos' sister, Patricia, is frustrated, and says this is an issue that affects a lot of miners.

Ms. PATRICIA LOBOS: (Spanish spoken)

MURPHY: She says: Chile isn't a fair place for everyone. The mining life, nationwide, the worker is taken advantage of. If nothing happens, it keeps on going, so people need to do something, and come up with solutions.

Patricia Lobos says she hopes that when this is all over, the Chilean government will provide fair conditions for the miners who dig up the copper that makes this country run.

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

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