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Chilean Miners’ Underground Ordeal Could Last ‘Til Christmas

August 23, 2010 at 6:48 PM EDT
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In Chile, 33 miners trapped for 17 days were found to be alive, but they face months more underground before they can be rescued. Matt Craze of Bloomberg News updates the rescue efforts.
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JEFFREY BROWN: A short time ago, I spoke with Bloomberg reporter Matt Craze in Santiago.

Matt Craze, welcome. What more can you tell us about how these men survived so long already?

MATT CRAZE, BLOOMBERG: Well, they — when they were down in this area, they were close to a refuge where they had some food supplies and also some water. And they were able to obtain more water supplies from, basically, some ventilation areas and drill — drilling areas from — even from drilling equipment. And that seems to be, at this stage, although we have very little information, what’s kept them going.

JEFFREY BROWN: So what can you tell us about the plan now to get food and supplies to them? How will that actually work?

CRAZE: Well, today the rescue team sent some rehydration drinks in a kind of cylinder that fits into this drillhole, that they brought into the mountain yesterday. And they’re really just checking these guys’ tolerance– you know, to being able to eat food, proper food. But right now they’re just — they’re just assessing their state of health. The miners have actually contacted the rescue workers today. They have an intercom which was sent in the cylinder. And they said that they’re all healthy but they’re very hungry.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, it’s remarkable to hear the talk about a possible rescue but not until Christmas, or about four months, they’re talking about. What about — tell us about what’s known about the difficulties of drilling the hole to rescue them and how that will proceed.

CRAZE: Sure. Well, there’s only one real entry into the mine. And the problem is that there’s been a huge rock slide within that underground mine. The mining minister said even today that there should have been alternative safety access to this mine.

And so, really, at the moment, the only feasible plan on the table is to bore a hole into the ground about 60 centimeters wide, which is just enough for a human to fit into. But this is a very slow process. The drill only works at a rate of about 20 meters a day. So that’s why they have this estimate, which is, you know, anything from between two to four months.

JEFFREY BROWN: And what about the stress, the psychological demands of being down there that long? What can or might be done to alleviate that?

CRAZE: Well, we’ve had a lot of psychologists on TV today in Chile discussing the — you know, the different effects that this — the length of this stay will bring to the miners. Right now, they haven’t actually told them how long the rescue effort is going to take. The man in charge of the rescue effort, Andre Sougarret, thought it was more appropriate to tell them at a later stage. And so they’re really working on a whole plan to approach this side of things.

However, today the miners were very optimistic. They even did a very — a popular kind of soccer chant today here, when Chile plays football. So they seem in good spirits right now, at least.

JEFFREY BROWN: It’s incredible. In the meantime, I understand that Chile’s president talked about overhauling the mining supervision regime there. Just give us a little feel of how — of this industry. How important is it? How safe has it traditionally been?

CRAZE: Well, Chile’s copper mining industry is hugely important for the country. It’s the biggest export by far. Chile produces about a third of the world’s copper. There are very different levels of safety between the large-scale mining companies, where you’re talking about companies such as BHP Billiton, Freeport McMoRan, big foreign mining companies that generally employ very stringent safety standards which they say comply with international — you know, the best international practices.

And you do have a lot of this very small-scale mining, as well, in Chile. Especially when the prices of metals go higher, they tend to suddenly spring up again. And sometimes you do have questionable mining standards with the small-scale activity. And that’s precisely the area which the government said it’s really going to get tougher with and apply new criteria to.

JEFFREY BROWN: And briefly, before I let you go, it sounds as though this continues to grip the nation there. And why not?

CRAZE: Yes, it’s just amazing the reaction that it’s caused in people. In Santiago yesterday, when they announced the discovery of these guys and that they were safe and alive, people, you know, were shouting and tooting their car horns. We even got a congregation of people in the central square, which you normally only get for World Cup victories and things like that, so — soccer victories. So it’s had an amazing effect on people and it’s actually quite an emotional experience for anyone who lives here.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Matt Craze of Bloomberg, thank you very much.

CRAZE: Thanks.