Chile: Attention Shifts to Miners’ Health
By Dialogo October 14, 2010
COPIAPÓ, Chile – “I pass the watch to you.”
That’s what Luis Urzúa said to Chilean President Sebastián Piñera moments
after he emerged from the depths of the earth, at 9:55 p.m. on Oct. 13 after a
rescue operation that lasted 22 hours and 35 minutes.
Urzúa was the last of the 33 miners to be lifted to the surface in an
unprecedented rescue effort at the San José gold and copper mine in northern Chile.
“I congratulate you because you fulfilled your duty leaving last, as a good
captain does,” Sebastián Piñera responded to Urzúa, who was in charge of the shift
when the mine collapsed Aug. 5.
Urzúa, a husband and father of two, said it was difficult to persevere
through 70 days of being trapped underground, the longest stretch ever documented.
“There were some tiresome days,” Urzúa said. “Some bled as the result of
trying to do things that were not in the best interest [like trying to escape]. But
we managed to keep the sanity.”
A celebration erupted at Camp Hope as Sebastián Piñera and Urzúa hugged while
tears rolled down their cheeks. Champagne was showered over the ecstatic crowd of
family members, rescue workers and journalists from all over the world as scenes
from the rescue were shown on a giant monitor.
“The miners are all right. They are free,” said María Segovia, sister of
rescued miner Darío Segovia, as she wept at the sight of the Fénix 2 capsule
reaching the surface with Urzúa inside.
María Segovia arrived at Camp Hope two days after the collapse and vowed not
to leave until the miners were rescued.
“I said that I would stay until the last one was out,” María said, as she
opened a bottle of champagne. “Now, I bow out and come back to my normal life
But amidst the celebration, Urzúa highlighted the harsh working conditions
miners face. Sebastián Piñera said he will make a formal announcement regarding how
he’ll improve working conditions in mines nationwide “in a few days.”
By Oct. 14, Camp Hope was deserted. Families, members of the media and rescue
workers shifted their attention to the Copiapó hospital, where the 33 miners are
Most of the miners are in better shape than expected, the Chilean government
said in a statement.
But most have dental problems, and one has pneumonia and silicosis, a
respiratory condition caused by prolonged exposure to dust and rubble.
“The 33 are good up there,” said Jaime Mañalich, Chile’s health minister, in
reference to the upper floors of the hospital, where the miners are being treated.
“With humility, I can say that we achieved our goal.”
Sebastián Piñera told the miners and their families Chile “will not be the
same” after the catastrophe, and those responsible for the collapse “will be
“You owe me 70 days of overtime,” Urzúa told Sebastián Piñera as the
teary-eyed men embraced.
“We’ll see about that,” Sebastián Piñera answered.