Media carnival follows still vulnerable miners


WITH THEIR doctors continuing to marvel at how well they coped physically with being trapped underground for 70 days, at least 10 more of Chile’s 33 rescued miners were due to leave hospital late yesterday.

The first three men were released on Thursday night to a jubilant reception from relatives and well-wishers as this oasis town staged an impromptu carnival to welcome them back after their ordeal.

Using a van provided by authorities, the three slipped out of the regional hospital where they were under observation since their rescue on Wednesday. But the world’s media caught up with them at their homes, fully exposing them to the massive interest their story has stirred around the world.

Speaking to journalists outside his house, Edison Peña said there were times during the 17 days between the August 5th cave-in and rescuers first making contact, that he feared the worst. “We were in bad shape; I believed we would never return. Thank you for believing we were still alive,” said the Elvis fan who has received an invitation from the singer’s estate to visit Gracelands, one of the multitude of gifts pouring in for the miners from around the world.

Such has been the media frenzy surrounding them since they were rescued, that Chile’s health minister has expressed concern about its impact, asking journalists to treat them “with dignity and respect”, saying the men needed “rest and repose” to allow them to come to terms with the events of the last 10 weeks. “They are still on an emotional roller-coaster,” said Jaimé Mañalich.

Speaking at the same press conference, the medical team’s psychologist said that the men were exhausted. “When that happens, your sensitivity rises to the maximum at the same time as your tolerance falls to almost nothing,” warned Alberto Iturra.

Despite the warnings, interest in “Los 33” remains intense in Chile where they are seen as national heroes. President Sebastián Piñera has not only invited them to the presidential palace in 10 days time, but also to accompany him to a ceremony with his Bolivian and Brazilian counterparts to mark the opening of a new transcontinental highway linking the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

The country’s congress has also tabled a motion to vote the 33 men lifetime pensions in recognition of their heroic endurance underground. But the proposal has tested the limits of how far their countrymen are willing to go to honour the miners. One national radio station was flooded with callers saying the move was a step too far, especially for the younger men. One caller was the angry son of a miner who told how his father has struggled for years without success for compensation for injuries suffered in a government mine.

Yesterday, a 26-year-old miner was crushed to death by a one tonne boulder 800m below the surface in a mine near the city of Valparaíso in central Chile.

His was the second mining death in Chile in the last 10 days. On Thursday the country’s president promised to toughen safety regulation in the sector.

Reuters adds:Phoenix – the metal escape capsule that hoisted them from the depths – is to go on world tour as a celebrity in its own right. The capsule was watched by millions of people worldwide as it rose like the mythical bird from the ashes.