Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images
A peddler sells Chilean and Copiapo flags that say, "Welcome, Heroes of Chile" and "33" in downtown Copiapo on Monday. The operation to bring 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for more than two months back to the surface neared its final stage Monday as engineers worked to reinforce a shaft through which the workers will be hoisted.
Rescuers in Chile on Monday successfully tested the capsule that is intended to bring 33 miners trapped deep underground to safety.
Andre Sougarett, the rescue leader, said workers lowered the empty capsule — dubbed the Phoenix —2,000 feet, just 40 feet short of the shaft system where the miners have been trapped since an Aug. 5 collapse.
Mining Minister Laurence Golborne called the 6 a.m. test "very promising, very positive."
The plan is for the miners to be brought up starting late Tuesday night. One by one, the men will take a twisting, 20-minute ride for 2,041 feet up to a rock-strewn desert moonscape and into the embrace of those they love.
Government workers have prepared a rough list of the order in which the men will emerge from the gold and copper mine. On Tuesday, two government rescuers will be lowered into the mine and will evaluate the medical condition of each man. The rescuers will then adjust the list according to their conditions.
The most able-bodied men will emerge first, followed by the weakest and then the very strongest.
The last out is expected to be Luiz Urzua, who was the shift chief when the men became entombed, several family members of miners told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to upset government officials.
The men will then be taken to an observation area where they will be greeted by two family members each. Then, they will go to a hospital where they will stay for at least two days. They will also receive at least six months of psychological treatment for their underground ordeal.
"Given the conditions of the mine and the amount [of time] that they've spent there, doctors are expecting issues like fungal diseases, lung problems, eye issues because of the dust," reporter Annie Murphy told NPR's Melissa Block.
Dealing With The Press
The miners are also likely to be greeted by intense media scrutiny. Some 2,000 different journalists are gathered on site and both the miners and their families have been flooded with interview requests, Murphy said.
Murphy told Block that the miners made a pact with one another: None of them can profit more than any of his comrades. The miners have asked for a lawyer and want a legal documentation that legally binds their agreement.
"The idea is that they think if they do this correctly it could be done in such a way that none of them would have to work ever again," Murphy said. "And I think given what they've gone through and given the life of a miner here in general, it's pretty understandable."
Last week, miners got an hour a day of training in dealing with the media, including practice with "ugly, bad and indiscreet" questions about their time underground, their personal lives and their families, said Alejandro Pino, a former reporter who was part of a support team provided by Chile's workplace insurance association.
"I see them doing extraordinarily well," Pino said. "They're ready."
The miners do seem happy in videos they filmed and sent to the surface. Some even joked around as they showed off their underground home.
But others have avoided the exposure. And while Manalich, the health minister, insists that the miners are unified, reflecting the disciplined teamwork that helped them survive, all that could change quickly once they are out.
Already, relations within and between their families have become strained as some seem to be getting more money and attention than others.
A philanthropic Chilean mining executive, Leonardo Farkas, gave $10,000 checks in the miners' names to each of the 33 families, and set up a fund to collect donations. Co-workers who weren't trapped, but were left out of a job, including some who narrowly escaped getting crushed in the collapse — wonder if they'll be taken care of, too.
Preparing For The Day
Meanwhile, the families of those trapped underground are preparing for a reunion. Some are even heading to the salon to look their best for the big day.
Many of the women are at the Palumbo salon in Copiapo. These women have been camped out in one of the harshest environments imaginable; the Atacama Desert is the driest desert in the world. While piercing daytime sun simmers the camp, nighttime temperatures have people shivering in their sleeping bags.
Hettiz Enriquez, the daughter of miner Jose Enriquez, is touching up the roots of her long black hair, getting a massage and a manicure.
"They're treating us really well, pampering us," she said in Spanish. "It's necessary, after two months — it's necessary."
Monica Araya is getting her hair highlighted and straightened and waiting for four of the trapped miners: her husband, Florencio Avalos, as well as her brother, her uncle and her brother-in-law.
"This is a good way to forget the anxiety for a little while and to pull myself together," she said.
Reporter Annie Murphy contributed to this report, which contains material from The Associated Press.