It Could Be Months Before Chilean Miners Are Freed Rescuing 33 miners trapped in a gold and copper mine in Chile could take four months. The miners had been trapped underground for 17 days before rescue workers found out they were alive. The miners on Sunday tied a note to a perforation drill that had bored a shaft to where they are located underground. Reporter Annie Murphy talks to Linda Wertheimer about the accident.
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It Could Be Months Before Chilean Miners Are Freed

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It Could Be Months Before Chilean Miners Are Freed

It Could Be Months Before Chilean Miners Are Freed

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

In Chile, rescue workers are using a small hole to establish a lifeline to a group of miners who miraculously survived the cave-in of a gold and copper mine. But they're deep underground, and it could be months before they can be reached and rescued. Engineers are now trying to decide just where to drill a larger shaft that would be big enough for the miners to be brought to the surface. Joining us now from Chile is reporter Annie Murphy.

Good morning, Annie.

ANNIE MURPHY: Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: What exactly happened to these miners?

MURPHY: These men, from what I understand, were starting their shift. They were almost half a mile underground, and there was a cave-in further up in the mine that left them trapped in a small refuge that's about the size of an apartment.

WERTHEIMER: So we know who they are?

MURPHY: They are 33 men. Thirty-two of them are Chileans. There's one Bolivian in there with them. They range in age from 19 to 63. So it's a big spread.

WERTHEIMER: How did they find them with this bore hole?

MURPHY: It was less sophisticated than you might think. Apparently, the mine maps have a lot of errors, so it was kind of hit-and-miss for a few days. Eventually, they ended up, on August 22nd, getting a drill down to where the men were. And the men were able to attach a note to the drill bit, and that was how they first established contact with them.

WERTHEIMER: And how are they communicating now?

MURPHY: They have microphones. They have a camera feed down there now. They're still sending up notes, as well.

WERTHEIMER: Can you tell what kind of condition the miners are in?

MURPHY: The miners' health, their physical health, is supposed to be surprisingly good. They're all - they've all lost quite a big of weight, some people are estimating up to 20 pounds each. But they're all doing pretty well physically. Right now, it seems like the big concern is going to be their mental health, because they could be trapped down there for up to four months.

WERTHEIMER: Why would it take so long to get them out?

MURPHY: Apparently, this is very unstable. There've already been some other cave-ins. And so rescue workers are using a drill that moves pretty slowly. Because they're almost half a mile under the ground, it could take that long.

WERTHEIMER: What about the region where they're located? Can you tell us where they are? I mean, what part of the country?

MURPHY: They're in the northern part of the country, about 500 miles, a little over, north of the capital, Santiago. It's pretty near the city of Copiapo. It's right on the edge of the Atacama Desert, which is the world's driest desert. But since we're here on the edge it's not, you know, it's not quite as harsh as other parts of the desert. But the mine where they're located is, you know, in the middle of this kind of barren, kind of slightly mountainous plain.

WERTHEIMER: What about the government? What's the government's response been?

MURPHY: The government's been widely criticized for their response. You know, the regulating agencies that were supposed to be working apparently weren't keeping an eye on this mine. There have been several accidents in the mine over the past month.

The government response at the beginning was, you know, highly criticized. And this is an administration that's already very unpopular in Chile. The president's approval rating right now is below 50 percent.

However, now that they've found the miners, you know, there's kind of widespread celebration in Chile, and I think that the criticism is backing off, at least in some ways.

WERTHEIMER: Annie Murphy, thank you very much.

MURPHY: Thank you, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: We've been talking to reporter Annie Murphy. She is in Copiapo, in Chile.

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WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.

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