Miners, rescuers hold emotional celebration in Chile

Monday, October 25, 2010

SANTIAGO - A presidential medal ceremony Monday for the 33 miners who were trapped for more than two months in northern Chile provided a chance for a meeting between the freed men and the rescue teams who lifted them from the depths of the earth.

They wept together and shared embraces.

“We always felt the support of everybody,” said mine worker Franklin Lobos, a former professional footballer.

The miners were honoured Monday by Chilean President Sebastian Pinera.

“We are completely grateful to all those who fought for us. It was something we could not have imagined,” shift boss Luis Urzua said in the ceremony at Chile’s presidential palace, La Moneda, in Santiago.

The miners were trapped underground when the shaft they were working in collapsed Aug 5. For 17 days they had no contact with the surface, until they were located and supplied with food, water, oxygen and even communications and television through small exploratory shafts drilled by rescuers.

The men were finally lifted to the surface through a larger shaft Oct 13.

Pinera thanked rescue teams for their efforts and noted that Chile has to draw lessons from the tragedy, with a new approach to labour relations.

One of the miners, Mario Sepulveda, said that their plight under the Atacama Desert should be used as an opportunity for change: “This is the time we have to start reviewing things. This is the time we have to fight for workers to be treated with dignity.”

Pinera, accused by some in the Chilean opposition of exploiting the rescue politically, recalled the tension of the spectacular operation.

“We were searching blindly. We did not know where you were, and the truth is we were not sure that you were alive,” he told the miners.

The men received medals in the same order that they emerged from the mine.

Filed under: Accidents and Disasters

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