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Chilean Miners ‘In Good Spirits’ But Rebelling Against Some Care

September 8, 2010 at 6:11 PM EDT
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Much has been done to keep the Chilean miners in good spirits but what about the families of these miners? Tom Bearden reports from Chile on how they are holding up.
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JIM LEHRER: Next tonight: The vigil goes on at the mine in Chile for the families, for medical teams, and for the 33 miners who have survived underground for more than a month.

NewsHour correspondent Tom Bearden is there.

TOM BEARDEN: It is a miserable place to camp out, a windswept saddle of jagged rocks that have been extracted from the gold and copper mine over the years as miners tunneled to reach the ore veins.

Margarite Lagos pitched her tent at the edge of the industrial road that leads to the mine. She’s been here for just over a month, contending with the heat and dust kicked up by heavy trucks by day and near-freezing temperatures after the sun goes down. Her son Claudio is among those buried nearly half-a-mile beneath the mountain.

Tell me about your son. How is he doing?

MARGARITE LAGOS, mother of trapped miner (through translator): He’s OK. He is better than before. Just like us, he’s waiting for the rescue.

TOM BEARDEN: Mrs. Lagos had last spoken with him through a television link on Monday.

What kind of spirits was your son in?

MARGARITE LAGOS (through translator): Good, super. He asked about his daughters, family, friends, but especially was worried about his daughters.

TOM BEARDEN: How are you holding up yourself?

MARGARITE LAGOS (through translator): What I can say? The first days were unbearable. It was like a nightmare. Now we must wait several months. And it’s just unbearable, because the pain of a mother is especially intense.

And this is not going to change until he gets out, until I can just hug and hug him and tell him that I love him. When they’re here and near, it’s often difficult to say it. But when he gets out, I know that I will easily tell him that I love him, because my heart is so sad and tight. And I believe it’s going to stay that way until he’s rescued.

TOM BEARDEN: A NASA team advising the Chilean rescue operation said that getting the miners out is just one part of a long process of helping them to reintegrate into society. Dr. Jorge Diaz supervises the 14 medical doctors assigned to the rescue team.

DR. JORGE DIAZ ANAIZ, medical supervisor (through translator): I’m very worried because it is a long time. And the most important issue will be maintaining the mental health of the miners.

We need to maintain discipline over a long period and occupy their time. We have information that some of the workers have been treated in the past for nervous conditions. And this has us worried. We are talking to them daily and asking how they are doing. Next week, we will do a training so that they are kept busy and preparing for their eventual exit.

TOM BEARDEN: Chief psychologist Alberto Iturro says most of the miners are in good spirits, but says they’re beginning to push back. Yesterday, they told him they wanted a break from talking to psychologists. And some miners are complaining that they aren’t getting all the mail their families have been sending.

DR. ALBERTO ITURRO, chief psychologist (through translator): They will probably get angry a lot. The situation isn’t pleasant and we are never going to satisfy everyone. But all of this is a good sign, because it shows that their desire to overcome their situation remains.

(SINGING)

TOM BEARDEN: Rescue officials said the miners were cheered by being able to watch a soccer match between the Chilean and Ukrainian national teams yesterday afternoon, while their families watched in a tent on top of the mine. But there is no escaping the harsh conditions underground. The temperature is constantly in the high 80s. Humidity is very high, and the ground itself is damp. Many of the men have fungus problems, and infections could turn dangerous.

DR. JORGE DIAZ ANAIZ (through translator): Because of the high temperatures and humidity, they are at high risk of infection and disease, so we have given them the vaccinations and the care they need.

TOM BEARDEN: How difficult is it to treat patients that you can’t physically touch?

DR. JORGE DIAZ ANAIZ (through translator): This is a challenge that we call medicine from a distance. But we do have an advantage in that we have some audiovisual equipment that allows us to get close and observe the miners from the surface. They’re in very good condition, with stable health, improving their weight and diet. And those with chronic diseases like diabetes are being treated.

TOM BEARDEN: One of the miners, 50-year old Yonni Barrios, has limited medical training. Doctors have used him to administer inoculations and treat wounds.

DR. JORGE DIAZ ANAIZ (through translator): The doctor asked Yonni if he would do it. Yonni replied that he was not opposed to doing it, because he said, “I am miner and I dare to do it.” Ultimately, it was not necessary, because the situation improved with oral medicines, but we almost had to do the procedure.

TOM BEARDEN: Zulemy Barrios is Yonni’s sister. She’s keeping watch on top of the mountain and says there’s a good reason he knows how to give medical aid.

ZULEMY BARRIOS, sister of trapped miner (through translator): Yes. He learned from his mother, because she was asthmatic.

TOM BEARDEN: So he learned this in order to take care of his own mother?

ZULEMY BARRIOS (through translator): Yes, from his mother.

TOM BEARDEN: You must be pretty proud of him.

ZULEMY BARRIOS (through translator): Yes, very proud, because he is helping all of his brothers, because, in the end, all the miners are his brothers. So, I’m very happy that he is the person that can help with all the vitamins and the injections to deal with the heat and humidity below.

TOM BEARDEN: While rescue officials paint an officially optimistic picture of the situation, tensions are rising elsewhere in the camp.

Elizabeth Segovia’s brother Dario is part of the trapped mining crew. She says people with only tenuous connections to the miners have been arriving, hoping to get a share of the money that the government has given the families and for future compensation claims that could run into tens of thousands of dollars.

ELIZABETH SEGOVIA, sister of trapped miner (through translator): Some of the men have ex-wives or girlfriends. And, before, they never worried for these miners inside, and now, all of a sudden, they care about them?

Myself, I’m not here for the money, but because I love my brother. There are some people that come here giving bad vibes to the miners below because the money is here. But that’s not what we need at the mine right now. What we need right now is to give these miners all of our love and support.

TOM BEARDEN: Dr. Iturro agrees that the focus has to remain on the men in the mine

DR. ALBERTO ITURRO (through translator): What’s important is what’s happening below the ground. We are focusing on that. These are things that will be resolved when the miners get out. And they will work this stuff out when they get back.

TOM BEARDEN: Every family member we talked to said they would stay on this mountain until the last man does come out.

ELIZABETH SEGOVIA (through translator): I have been here since the first day of the accident, and I will be here with my brother until the day he gets out. It’s very cold and we lack some things. But the love for family is stronger than the cold and all that, and our family’s love is even stronger than before.

TOM BEARDEN: Despite all of the problems so far and all that may still come, Dr. Iturro says what he has seen is nothing short of amazing.

DR. ALBERTO ITURRO (through translator): The mental state of the miners is incredible for what they have lived through. They were not chosen for this, and neither they have received training for this, but they have still managed to survive in conditions almost unbearable for most human beings, yet they have overcome everything.

TOM BEARDEN: The hope now is that the men can continue to survive the months it will take to finally get them out.