Ordeal For Chilean Miners May Be Nearing End

The long wait may soon be over for 33 men stuck a half-mile underground in a Chilean mine. A rescue shaft was completed over the weekend, and rescuers hope to bring the first of the men up to the Earth's surface by Tuesday night. NPR's Melissa Block talks to Annie Murphy, who is at the San Jose Mine.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

In Chile, tonight is the night at the San Jose Mine. Rescue efforts are set to begin for 33 men who've been trapped half a mile underground for more than two months. Authorities say they hope to have at least one of the men out before midnight.

Reporter Annie Murphy is at the mine site in Northern Chile, and she joins us now.

And, Annie, they are going to be bringing these men out in a capsule called the Phoenix. It's coming up through a hole about two feet wide.

Why don't you tell us more about how the rescue will begin and how it will proceed?

ANNIE MURPHY: Well, first, they'll have the rescue team go down into this mine shaft and evaluate the state of these miners. Then, they'll start sending the men up. And when the men start coming up one by one, when they get near the surface, the government has organized it so that there's going to be a flashlight and an alarm is going to going off.

They told everyone here to expect that. It's going to be routine, and that's because they need everyone who's assisting the men when they come out to be in place. When they get out, then the medical team will take charge of these men, bring them to an observation area for probably a few hours, where they'll be with their family members while these government doctors are evaluating the state that they've come out in. And then, they'll be transported to this hospital in the nearby city of Copiapo.

BLOCK: And, Annie, it's intentional that they're starting this operation at nighttime?

MURPHY: It is. No one really knows what to expect in terms of how these men are going to react to being on the surface, and, obviously, the nighttime environment is much more like the environment they've been in for the last several months. Then, daytime, I mean, the desert is just, you know, there's very piercing intense light, and their eyes are not accustomed to sunlight right now. So they're trying to take them out at night in order - just have it - have the smoothest transition possible.

BLOCK: How long do they figure it will take to get all 33 of these miners up from the mine?

MURPHY: They estimate that, you know, for each miner, the trip itself for each miner to get to the surface is somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes. Then, you have to factor in, you know, the lowering down of this cage. Again, the miners getting in and all of the other variables that go into - so right now, the estimate is somewhere between 36 and 48 hours. They seem relatively confident that the rescue will be finished sometime Thursday night.

BLOCK: I'm trying to imagine, Annie, how electric a moment that's going to be when that first alarm goes off and people realize the first miner has been brought up.

MURPHY: Yeah. I mean, I think people all over the world and, obviously, everyone in Chile is waiting for this moment. And you could just feel the anticipation in the camp. The president is arriving. The president will be there for this moment, and so everyone is just, you know, waiting and watching and trying to imagine what is actually going to feel like for, you know, the one moment they've been waiting for for over two months to actually occur.

BLOCK: What are you hearing from the family members there?

MURPHY: You know, I think they're in almost a state of shock that it's actually come down to this now. Everyone is just saying, you know, I'm excited, I'm excited. But people are also saying, you know, they're nervous, but they're calm. I know it sounds contradictory, but a lot of people are saying they're nervous, but they're calm. You know, they're really anxious to see their family members. They're anxious to see how this goes, but they also seem to have a lot of confidence in this process.

BLOCK: Okay. That's reporter Annie Murphy talking with us from the San Jose mine site near Copiapo in northern Chile.

Annie, thanks very much.

MURPHY: Thank you.

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