Miners' rescue will take months, says Chile

Early Sunday morning, a drill bored to a depth of 688 meters to reach a tunnel that is thought to be a refuge for the workers who could have taken shelter there after the Aug 5 cave-in.

Shortly afterwards, the drill brought to the surface two notes tied with strips of rubber tire. Cristian Gonzalez, the operator of one of the machines, ran to tell the miners' families the news.

It was noon and the news raced through the Esperanza (Hope) camp, where for two weeks some 200 people have been anxiously waiting for word about their loved ones.

Soon afterwards the news was officially confirmed by President Sebastian Piñera, making his fourth visit to the San Jose mine in Copiapo.

"Today all Chile is happy, very excited," the president said. Family members, rescue workers and authorities went to sing the national anthem at the hill where 32 Chilean flags and one Bolivian flag were flying in honour of the workers trapped in this 100-year-old mine, which was closed down in 2007 because of an accident and was later re-opened in a controversial decision.

Everyone waited anxiously to see the first pictures taken by a camera that the rescue team had dropped down to the miners' refuge.

"I could see them with my own eyes with the video cameras. I saw eight or nine of them waving their arms - they still had their lamps lit and were apparently in good physical condition," Piñera said.

The workers were shirtless "because it must be hot down there (up to 36 degrees Celsius) - they were in good spirits, strong, which really made me happy and gave me a lot of faith that this operation will end well", he said.

Now begins the operation to rescue the workers, Piñera said. The head of the rescue team, Andre Sougarret, said that once the hole that has been drilled is secured in the coming hours, the miners will be sent water, food and medicine. The drills will also be used for the miners to maintain contact with the families and rescuers and to report on conditions encountered.

Of the 33 miners, two are suffering from slight cases of silicosis and a third is diabetic, but is not in serious condition.

The rescue work was to begin Monday with the machinery sent by state-owned copper miner Codelco.

The specialists plan to open a shaft through the rock some 65 centimeters in diameter, parallel to that of the drill hole, to rescue the miners using ropes and stretchers. The job will take at least three months, Sougarret acknowledged.

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