World congratulates Chile on miners’ ‘glorious’ rescue

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

COPIAPO - “Glorious”, “historic”, “heroic”: were among the words used by those watching in awe Wednesday as 33 miners trapped 700 metres underground in northern Chile were one by one lifted to the surface after more than two months.

More than two-thirds of the 33 miners have been removed from the San Jose copper mine that collapsed and trapped them more than 700 metres below the surface Aug 5. They have been elevated in a capsule through a narrowly bored hole.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said the rescue might be completed later Wednesday.

“The schedule has gotten tighter, because at the start the operation to rescue each miner took one hour,” Pinera said. “Now we are progressing at a rate of 40 minutes per rescue.”

The health of the workers who have so far been rescued from the mine is “quite good”, Chilean Health Minister Jaime Manalich said. They have generally suffered increased heart rate and blood pressure, but doctors are not worried.

The rescue operation took place in an atmosphere of euphoria, patriotism, religious fervour and optimism for the fate of the miners who are still trapped underground. Tension virtually vanished after the first couple of miners were rescued.

Pinera, who arrived at the mine Tuesday afternoon, stressed that he would stay at the site until the last of the miners is out.

He defined the early hours of Wednesday when the first miners were lifted to the surface as “a magical night” and “a night in which life defeated death.”

“It is a night that we are going to remember all our lives,” he said.

Bolivian President Evo Morales was on site to meet with compatriot Carlos Mamani, 23, who was the only non-Chilean among the trapped miners.

“This is a historic event. We Bolivian authorities are grateful for the effort that Chileans made,” Morales said.

Morales offered Mamani a job and a home in Bolivia in case he wants to return to his native country, and said he was willing to take the miner home immediately if he wished to go.

Mamani made it clear, however, that he wants to stay in Chile, at least for a few days. He plans to meet up with the other miners on the surface, once the ordeal is over for all of them.

Television channels around the world were broadcasting the rescue live, and prominent world leaders were among those following closely.

US President Barack Obama recounted the emergence of the first miner, Florencio Avalos, 31, and the subsequent reunification with his family early Wednesday.

“The tears they shed after so much time apart expressed not only their own relief, not only their own joy, but the joy of people everywhere,” Obama told reporters at the White House.

Obama congratulated the Chilean people, who he said have “inspired the world.”

Many others agreed.

“The whole world is proud of what Chile is doing,” Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told Pinera, according to his spokesman in Brasilia.

Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega described events in Chile as a “real heroic deed.” The rescue operation constituted “more evidence of how technology is in the service of humanity,” she said at a conference bringing together engineering and renewable energies experts.

British Prime Minister David Cameron was also among those who congratulated Chile.

“I’m sure everyone would like me to, on their behalf, send best wishes to the president and people of Chile as they celebrate the trapped miners coming to the surface and the glorious pictures we can see on our television screens,” Cameron said in Parliament.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso also expressed “great admiration” for the rescue.

“The comradeship and the resilience of the miners, the thoughtfulness and efficiency of the operation and the solidarity of all concerned have already given to the world a message of hope and confidence,” Barroso said.

NASA flight surgeon James Polk, however, was more cautious: medical and engineering problems could still arise.

“It’s not unlike a football game, we are at half time right now and you don’t want to let your guard down,” he said in an interview with CNN.

Still, Polk, who consulted with Chilean officials as part of the NASA team that provided advice about spending months in confined spaces, also poured praise on Chilean authorities.

“They implemented the advice and sought out the experts,” he said. “And they did just a fantastic job, although there’s a long way to go yet, things are looking very good.”

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