05 September 2010
An underground society
Trapped underground for a month a group of Chilean miners may have found a way to survive while waiting for a rescue that may be months away. The miners trapped underground I the San Jose mine in the Atacama Desert have each taken on specific naming a "priest", a "doctor", a "poet" a "TV presenter" and a "foreman" within the group.
"They are completely organised," said Dr Jaime Mañalich, Chile's health minister. "They have a full hierarchy. It is a matter of life and death for them… The worst scenario would be one of the men suffered severe psychosis for being trapped so long and attempted to claw their way out of the mine. As long as they are kept busy with defining roles we hope to avoid it."
The oldest member of the group Mario Gomez, 62, has taken on the role of spiritual leader and urges the men to pray daily in the makeshift chapel he has created in a corner of the subterranean chamber.
His job has been aided by 33 mini bibles and rosary beads for each of the men sent from the Vatican this week with a blessing from Pope Benedict XVI and lowered into the mine with the daily supplies of food and medicine.
Another of the miners, Yonny Barrios Rojas, 50, is using knowledge gained on a nursing course he attended in the mid-1990s to administer medicines to the group including vaccinations against tetanus, pneumonia and flu and performing daily health checks.
Victor Zamora has penned a poem describing the first 17 days they were trapped down the mine without contact with the outside world. "It's a moving piece of work especially from someone who until now had no inclination to write," explained Alberto Iturra, a psychologist at the site. "Each is finding their own role and their own way to express themselves and we think that is very healthy," he said.
While engineers above ground continue the rescue operation to bore a 2,297 feet escape shaft to raise the men, the miners themselves have been told they will play a critical role in rescue. The miners must prepare themselves to ensure they are fit to work as the drill gets closer. They men will need to move an estimated 4,000 tons of rock and earth that will fall into their chamber as the rescue shaft is cleared.
Luis Urzua, the 54-year-old leader of the shift, has mapped out the chamber in preparation for the mammoth job required in the final stages of the rescue, which could take as long as three to four months. He will also organise the men and oversee the work when the time comes.
I hope for the sake of these men that their society holds together. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be where they are. I do not know if I would have their strength of endurance. Here’s hoping that their rescue is as quick as possible