Trapped Chilean miners celebrate bicentennial

September 19th, 2010 - 3:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Santiago de Chile, Sep 19 (DPA) They’ve been sealed underground for more than a month, connected only by a thin tube that carries water, food and entertainment to their survival cave 700 metres down.
Yet Saturday, the 33 gold and copper miners celebrated Chile’s 200th Independence Day with an upbeat message from the deep, sending up a video that showed them dancing to celebrate progress in the drilling of their rescue shaft.

Wearing white helmets and red shirts, the men radiated excitement in the video broadcast nationwide: “All of Chile should know that we are doing well. Many thanks, Chile. Long live Chile!” the men yelled, grasping each other on the shoulders and jumping with joy in a circle.

The Schramm T-130 drill that is boring the rescue shaft Friday reached 630 metres underground - a mine workshop 70 metres above the trapped miners. The rescue tunnel is now 30 centimetres wide, and must be widened to 70 centimetres in a second drilling to accommodate lifting the miners.

The rescue could come earlier than had been feared. Since the accident blocked their exit Aug 5, talk has been of December at the earliest. But Chilean media speculated it could come as soon as October. Mining Minister Laurence Golborne was optimistic, and spoke of a possible rescue in November.

“I don’t know exactly when, but they will certainly be rescued. And in reference to the time, we hope for a nice surprise,” President Sebastian Pinera said Saturday as the country celebrated its second century of independence from Spain.

The men underground wanted to celebrate along with the rest of the country. They decorated their tunnel in the Atacama Desert mine with garlands, and raised the Chilean flag at the same time their families did above ground - and they sang the national anthem.

The above-ground flag carried the signatures of the trapped men.

The miners were sent festive food complete with traditional meat pies, or empanadas, salads and fruit compote.

Pinera planned to visit the mine Sunday, to honour the miners, their families and the rescue teams who work around the clock.

In Santiago, an ecumenical service at the cathedral marked the bicentennial.

Chile’s independence movement began Sep 18, 1810, when an assembly of illustrious locals declared independence from Spain. It took eight years to make it a reality, with the Battle of Maipu April 5, 1818.

In 1810, Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina and Mexico also started down the road that would end three centuries of Spanish rule in the Americas. Ecuador in 1809 and Uruguay and Paraguay in 1811 were also part of the trend.

Chile - also troubled in recent months by a devastating quake in February - is now one of the most developed countries in Latin America and has a solid democracy. Only 20 years ago, it was celebrating the end of a 17-year dictatorship under General Augusto Pinochet that is believed to have killed close to 3,000 people.

The country is, however, still struggling to reduce poverty, with over 15 percent of its 17 million people living under the poverty line, and to achieve a fairer distribution of income.

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