In Chile, Expressions Of Joy, Relief

Here's the scene repeated Wednesday at the San Jose gold and copper mine in Chile: A rescue capsule emerges aboveground, delivering a miner, one of 33 trapped for a record 69 days, amid applause, cheering and tears. NPR's Melissa Block talks to Chilean journalist Pascale Bonnefoy about the rescues, and how all of Chile is reacting to the event.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

At the San Jose Mine in Chile today, sounds of gratitude, relief and euphoria.

(Soundbite of cheering)

BLOCK: As each miner rises to the surface, the waiting crowd erupts in cheers.

KELLY: Rescuers are hoisting the men up from nearly half a mile underground in a slender capsule. The miners emerge wearing hardhats and sunglasses, and to a man, each has hugged a loved one immediately after stepping out of the capsule. So far the rescue effort has been smooth and the last of the 33 miners is expected to be brought up later tonight, after more than two months underground.

BLOCK: Pascal Bonnefoy is a freelance Chilean journalist who's been following the story, and she joins us from Copiapo.

Pascal, you were at the mine last night as the miners started to be brought up from below ground. Describe how that felt for you and for everybody there.

Ms. PASCAL BONNEFOY (Chilean Journalist): Well, everyone cried, including me. It was impossible not to have tears in your eyes, especially because the first miner who was lifted, his little boy was waiting for him and the boy burst into tears. And everyone was cheering and crying, and they let loose a whole bunch of balloons with the colors of the flag - of the Chilean flag. It was really exciting. It was really emotional.

BLOCK: It's been really stunning to watch these miners come out. I mean, there was a lot of fear that they would have been sort of debilitated by their time underground. The first two, anyway, looked happy and healthy and one of them was jumping around cheering and handing out rocks from below ground.

(Soundbite of cheering)

BLOCK: I think that's a Mr. Sepulveda, right?

Ms. BONNEFOY: Mario Sepulveda. Yeah, he's the one that always shows up on the videos. He's like leading everyone into song or dancing and he surprised everyone. He like hugged his wife first, and then he started pulling out all these rocks with - you could see from the glitter of mineral on them, and started giving them away to rescue workers and then to President Pinera, and to the mining minister. And he hugged Pinera, and apparently he didn't know who Pinera was.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BONNEFOY: He hugged him like three times. They were like huge bear hugs.

Unidentified Group: (Speaking foreign language)

Ms. BONNEFOY: And then Mario Sepulveda just started like leading a cheer among all the rescue workers. He went to up where other rescue workers were behind this barrier and started hugging them as well, and it was just amazing. Amazing. And then he went back and started hugging everyone again. Yeah, it was incredible.

BLOCK: Let's talk about the Chilean president, Sebastian Pinera. How has this whole rescue operation affected Pinera's presidency?

Ms. BONNEFOY: Well, you know, it's very interesting, because there's been a couple of public opinion polls and the latest one, which was about a week ago, actually said that Pinera's popularity hasn't changed - hasn't risen. But Laurence Golborne, the mining minister, has shot up. And he's like a hero. He's a superstar. You know, people stop him on the street and ask for his autograph. The government as a whole has benefit because it did what it had to do, and it did it really well.

BLOCK: And this has become, obviously, just a huge source of national pride. I mean, when you watch that capsule come out from the ground, the first thing you see is the word Chile.

Ms. BONNEFOY: Oh, yeah, yeah. It's one of the few, very upbeat, emotionally satisfying things that happened here. We usually are used to disasters or problems, and that's when the international media comes. And this is just a very touching success story, you know, even though, we can't forget that these men are victims. You know, they're heroes, but they're also victims of bad labor practices and negligence. Someone said last night, where are the mine owners? No one knows where the owners are. They haven't said a word.

BLOCK: Well, it's been an amazing thing to watch. Pascal Bonnefoy, thanks very much for talking to us. We'll let you get back to the mine.

Ms. BONNEFOY: Okay. Thank you. Bye-bye.

BLOCK: That's Chilean Journalist Pascal Bonnefoy talking with us from Copiapo.

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