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First Of 33 Trapped Miners Raised To Freedom

Latin America

First Of 33 Trapped Miners Raised To Freedom

'They Wept'

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After more than two months spent in a dark hole a half-mile underground in Chile, the 33 miners are being brought to the surface by rescuers. The operation is taking place in Chile's Atacama desert.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. In Chile the long wait is over. Trapped miners are being hoisted to safety this morning after 69 days deep underground. That's the longest any miners have ever been trapped and survived. The miners are being brought up one at a time in a specially designed, very small capsule. And so far 15 have reached the surface. Each is greeted with hugs and tears.

And reporter Annie Murphy is on the scene and she joined us to talk about it. Good morning.

ANNIE MURPHY: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: What has it been like these last hours as the miners have reached the surface?

MURPHY: It's been really intense, and pretty incredible too. Seeing that first miner come up, Florencio Avalos, everyone just couldn't quite believe that it was happening, and then, you know, you had more and more miners, obviously, coming up. And each time someone came up, it was almost the same level of surprise and delight all over the camp. People are just ecstatic that this is actually happening. It just seemed like such a remote possibility for so long, I think for a lot of these people. I think the reactions of the miners, when they reach the surface, is really moving. Mario Gomez, who's one of the who I believe is the oldest miner he dropped down to his knees and just kneeled on the ground for a while, and then his wife, who's also older, came up to him and helped him get to his feet. And it was just a very simple gesture, but really moving.

And then another miner came out of this rescue capsule and he started passing out rocks. He'd brought up a huge bag of rocks and he just went around shaking the officials' hands and passing out these rocks and cracking jokes. So it's been a really genuine kind of interaction that people have been having with each other, and it's been really interesting to watch.

MONTAGNE: As exciting as this is, Annie, what is the challenge? I mean a physical challenge of being rescued. I gather there's you know, there's some issues about coming from so deep in the mine, which is something like 90 degrees, up to the freezing temperatures of the surface, and several things in between. What are they?

MURPHY: Well, I mean the temperatures obviously change all the time. Now it's daytime, so the freezing isn't an issue. But it was an issue during the nighttime. And so the challenges have just been trying to anticipate how these men are going to react. They've been underground in a very dark, hot, damp place, and they're coming up to a huge temperature change. We're in the middle of the desert. It's very arid. Their eyes haven't seen sunlight for over two months. So the challenge has been making sure that their arrival isn't too harsh on their bodies.

They've been wearing special clothing. I believe they had compression socks to help with the pressure issues. And they have sunglasses on when each one of them comes up. There are a lot of measures that have been taken. They've been on special diets. They've been going through psychological counseling. So there are a lot of challenges. They've been working on them consistently and it seems like it's been going smoothly so far.

MONTAGNE: And so they seem to be coming out pretty fast, these miners. When do they estimate it'll be all done?

MURPHY: Well, so far the men have been coming up quite quickly. You know, they've averaging, I would say, about two an hour, maybe a little bit longer. But the government is still quite conservative with their estimates of time. Right now they're saying that the whole rescue effort will take a total of 36 hours. But if they keep on leaving at the speed that they're doing right now, it'll be sooner than that.

MONTAGNE: Annie, thanks very much.

MURPHY: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Annie Murphy is in Chile, where the trapped miners are being raised to the surface today.

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