Oktober 17, 2010

Chile heroes return to mine for emotional reunion

COPIAPO, Chile (AFP) – Chile's mining heroes returned to the scene of their record-breaking survival for an emotional celebratory mass, amid some strains over the media frenzy surrounding them.
Thirteen survivors, accompanied by partners and children, took part in a private ceremony after visiting the tent city where relatives refused to give up hope, waiting anxiously for 10 long weeks for their safe return.
Claudio Yanez, who proposed to his longtime companion Cristina Nunez during the ordeal, toured "Camp Hope" with his tiny daughter in his arms, peering into tents now empty and battered by the strong Atacama desert winds.
"This was a city," he said, as workers slowly set about taking down the makeshift shelters that became home to thousands of relatives and well wishers as the massive rescue effort reached its euphoric climax on Wednesday.
Dario Segovia, a rescued drill operator whose sister Maria was nicknamed "The Mayoress" for the leadership role she assumed at the camp, paid tribute to the stoicism of the miners' families.
"Everyone suffered out here as we suffered down there," he said.
Many miners did not attend the mass as they were still recuperating after their 69-day ordeal, while others were sleeping off family celebrations that ran late into Saturday night following their release from hospital.
Only one miner, Victor Zamora, remains in the care of doctors and he is expected to remain under medical observation until at least Tuesday after undergoing serious dental surgery.
The return to the mine was part of what is expected to be a long process of readjustment for the 33 men, who have become national heroes and garnered global attention for their miraculous survival and dramatic rescue.
Their newfound fame could bring them riches, but they also plan to use it to improve the fate of miners worldwide, they said.
But some miners and their families began showing strains from the media frenzy over their spectacular tale of survival, with some apparently adhering to a "pact of silence" over the ordeal.
At least three miners contacted by AFP confirmed that there is an agreement of silence, but only about the first 17 days of their ordeal, when they survived on sparsely rationed bites of tuna and drank dirty mine water until they were able to get word to rescuers that they were alive.
"We will not talk about the first 17 days until the investigation (into the mine collapse) is complete," said Carlos Bugueno, one of the rescued workers.
But fellow miner Omar Reygadas said there was no such pact.
"There is no pact of silence," he said. "There is nothing to hide, we went through the experience as partners, there is nothing to be ashamed about."
Still, Reygadas grew impatient as he navigated through a crowd of news crews around the tent where his family slept while he was trapped.
"Give me my space please," he said.
Fellow miner Claudio Acuna was with a crying baby, riding in a car surrounded by journalists. A woman inside said to the him: "Smile, so they can take your picture, and then they will leave us alone."
Although the miners in the camp had no problems posing for the cameras, almost all of them refused to give statements to the press.
Police had to intervene to allow the miners to tour the remnants of Camp Hope, at the foot of the San Jose Mine, where the accident occurred.
At a press conference Saturday, miner Juan Illanes, who acted as spokesman for the group, urged the media to have patience in reporting and said that the miners expected to write a book about their experience.
"We have to do something together, the experience must be put to use," Illanes told El Mercurio newspaper. "We have to decide how to direct our project so this type of thing never happens again."
Yonni Barrios, who famously asked both his wife and his girlfriend to come to the mine and greet him on Wednesday, told AFP the men wanted to find a way to advise companies on making mines safer.
"We're thinking about creating a foundation to solve problems in the mining industry," he said. "With this, with the experience that we have had, God help us, we should be able to solve these problems."
Fatal mine accidents since their rescue, in China and Ecuador, provided yet more reminders of the great risks associated with the industry.

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