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Pinera Vows to Toughen Chilean Mining Safety

October 14, 2010 at 6:02 PM EDT
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Celebrations took place across the world when the last Chilean miner emerged after being trapped for 69 days. ITN's Jonathan Miller recaps the euphoria captured in Chile and across the world.
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JIM LEHRER: Today was another day of celebration in Chile, as President Pinera visited all of the 33 miners at the hospital today. Meanwhile, Pinera says he will triple the budget of the country’s mine safety agency, and he vowed that Chile will never permit miners to work in unsafe and inhuman conditions again.

Jonathan Miller of Independent Television News filed this report from Copiapo, Chile.

JONATHAN MILLER: A grainy cave cam captures the moment at 9:46 p.m. that shift leader Luis Urzua hugs his rescuers below and climbs into the cramped escape pod to begin his half-mile, 11-minute journey back to the world above and back to life.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JONATHAN MILLER: Thousands gathered to share the moment in the main square of Copiapo, the city closest to the mine. Then, at three minutes to 10:00 exactly, ecstatic expectation explodes into sheer exuberance.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JONATHAN MILLER: National catharsis in this outpouring of relief, of pride, and delight.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(SINGING)

JONATHAN MILLER: “I send this kiss to the world,” he yells. “Chileans are the best.”

Up at the mine at Campamento Esperanza, Camp Hope, for 10 weeks home the relatives of miners, confetti flew and champagne sprayed, the ultimate endurance epic over, the extraction operation flawless, and the 33 men once presumed dead now resurrected.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JONATHAN MILLER: Fifty-four-year-old Luis Urzua had demonstrated powerful leadership abilities through this ordeal, calming his men for 17 days lost in blackness, enforcing rules and rationing their few small tins of tuna.

“We have done what the whole world was waiting for,” he told Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera. “We had strength. We had spirit. We wanted to fight.”

“You have been relieved, coming out last, like a good captain,” the president told him. “You have no idea how all Chileans shared your anguish, your hope, your joy.”

The whole world shared that anguish, hope, and joy in this meticulously choreographed made-for-TV-drama, in-real-life spectacular.

(APPLAUSE)

JONATHAN MILLER: Twenty-seven-year-old Ricardo Villarroel was the 28th miner to emerge from the capsule. His wife is due to give birth to their first child within the next few days. He had been deep in the mine working on a rock face just three meters from the collapse.

While he was running away, there was a second collapse. President Pinera visited Ricardo Villarroel and his 32 fellow survivors in hospital in Copiapo this morning. They’re in good shape, considering. One has pneumonia and two needed urgent dental work, but most will probably leave hospital today.

The popularity of President Pinera, a billionaire, has soared, thanks to the successful rescue of these humble miners, for them now, a huge party, then the interviews and film and book deals. Most are unlikely to ever need to go underground again.

In the miners’ former tomb, once all 33 had left, the last six rescue workers posed for the live TV feed with this little sign. “Mission accomplished,” it reads. One by one, they left. The lights stayed on, the camera rolled, a time capsule never to be reached again.

Above, they sealed the shaft atop the plan B lifeline. The rescue had taken 22 hours, 37 minutes. The miners’ ordeal had lasted 69 days and eight hours exactly.