Newly Free, Miners Enjoy Some Time In The Sun

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Chile is celebrating the successful rescue of 33 miners entombed underground for more than two months. In the hometown of many of those men, the celebrations are happening throughout the city in many block parties.


In Chile, most of the 33 miners are now back home. While their physical health is good, government doctors say many are showing of psychological stress after their long ordeal. Now, the miners are trying to relax, keeping their distance from the press and spending time with their families. Meanwhile, their friends and neighbors are throwing big block parties.

Annie Murphy has the story from the city of Copiapo near the San Jose mine.

ANNIE MURPHY: The Palomar neighborhood lies in the outskirts of Copiapo. There are rows of dusty uniform houses made of cement and stucco. Most are painted muted shades of mustard yellow and olive green.

This is a working-class area inhabited mostly by mining families. Several of the 33 miners live here and their neighbors have come together to welcome them back.

(Soundbite of people celebrating)

MURPHY: That even goes for the miners who aren't from here. Jose Ojeda is a widower without children from another city. He doesn't have much family, so his supervisor invited Ojeda to his home and put together a big welcome, complete with a brass band and huge dancing puppets.

(Soundbite of music)

MURPHY: Surrounded by people, Ojeda is quickly ushered inside by the supervisor's family and some neighbors. The press is being kept away from the man. In addition to being exhausted, many families are selling access to the miners. But part of their reintegration into life above ground is contact with friends and neighbors through these celebrations.

A few streets down, Florencio Avalos, the first miner out, has a block party going on in his honor.

(Soundbite of music)

MURPHY: Cars are parked at either end of the block to keep out traffic. People have brought out their kitchen tables and lined them up to make one big banquet table. It's set with an assortment of plates from different homes, bowls of vegetables and potato salad, bottles of Chilean wine and soda for the kids.

(Soundbite of music)

MURPHY: Avalos is still resting and will come out later. For now, about 50 neighbors are milling around, chatting, grilling big batches of chicken and sausage. David Vallejos and Juan Orellana helped organize this block party. David Vallejos.

Mr. DAVID VALLEJOS: (Through translator) It's nice to bring everyone together so he knows we've been worried about him, and also how happy we are now. A person who works in mining and they put themselves in his place.

MURPHY: Vallejos, like nearly all the men here, is a miner. Vallejos himself works in a mine that's safe, but he says it's a rare case. These men don't believe in the government's pledge to reform Chile's mining industry. They say they've heard such promises throughout their careers, but they do think that what happened at the San Jose Mine will cause some sort of change. Juan Orellana.

Mr. JUAN ORELLANA: (Spanish spoken)

MURPHY: He says in this sort of neighborhood, it's people who really struggle. Generally, both parents are working and the pace of life is really fast. They've got to worry about things - their kid's school, situations come up. Life is pretty hard. Apart from the things that will change in the lives of the miners, he says, there are a lot of houses where changes are happening because of this.

The changes they mention include looking for ways to get out of mining, taking more time to be with their families and more neighborhood gatherings like this one.

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

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