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Daily rigors of underground life to end for Chile miners

Carefully regulated daily routines have helped the 33 miners trapped underground in Chile survive for more than two months. -AFP

Mon, Oct 11, 2010

By Gael Favennec

SAN JOSE MINE, Chile, Oct 11, 2010 (AFP) - Eating, sleeping and working in eight-hour shifts, carefully regulated daily routines have helped the 33 miners trapped underground in Chile survive for more than two long months.

In their subterranean shelter 700 meters (2,300 feet) below the earth's surface, exercising, praying and reading have been ways to pass the time as they await the rescue shaft to be stabilized and their exit cage prepared.

"They have a shift-system, which is typical in mining," chief psychologist Alberto Iturra told AFP. "One group from 8 am to 4 pm, another from 4 pm to midnight, and the last from midnight to 8 am."

The miners set that system in motion after August 22, which was the day they were able to attach a note to a drill bit that made it back to the surface and alerted the world that they had survived a collapse that blocked the mine's exit 17 days earlier.

Until then, they survived by parsing out tiny mouthfuls of canned tuna and sips of milk. Once the outside world learned they were all right, the miners began receiving food and other supplies via the drill shaft.

"The food has just gotten better and better, and the meals are very well balanced," Iturra said.

For instance on Saturday night they ate meat with gravy and rice, he said. They have also been able to receive via the chute mail, medication and clothes, said Jean Romagnoli, a sports-medicine expert who is monitoring them from the surface.

"They get 40 to 50 deliveries a day," he said, adding that they've received foldable beds, a camping shower, a video projector, an MP3 music player, books and board games.

Unloading and filling back up the capsules that carry the items up and down the shaft constitutes a big part of their work day, as does removing debris from the mouths of three separate drill shafts that rescuers have been working on from above.

On Saturday the miners carried out a controlled explosion at the base of the largest shaft, through which they will exit mid-week, likely beginning Wednesday according to official projections.

"They must also take care of water deliveries and maintain the machinery down below," Iturra said.

The miners do an hour of daily exercise and have been doing that for a month. They've also been trained in first aid, positive thinking and oral expression to prepare them for facing the throngs of media once they exit.

During their free time, they've played dominoes, dice, written to their families and watched the videoprojector on which they were able to see a football match between Chile and Ukraine last month.

Jimmy Sanchez, the youngest of the group at age 19, "devours all the newspapers," according to his aunt Janet Lagues.

"I think he is reading about everything that is happening in Chile and around the world," she said.

Doris Contreras, mother of Pedro Cortez, said the men "are praying a lot." Some have also discovered new vocations. Cortez shows all the videos they group gets from above, while Victor Zamora pens poetry and plans to write a book about the experience, according to his mother.

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