Today, six days since the cave-in of a tunnel in a copper and gold mine buried 33 mining workers near the city of Copiapó in the Atacama Desert, intense efforts to contact and rescue the workers have not succeeded.
Although the initial number of miners trapped in the mine was originally estimated at 34, now the number has been set at 33. Their families and friends have gathered and remain in the proximity of the mine and watch with apprehension and hopefulness the efforts of the rescue crews to reach the location where the miners are assumed to have taken refuge after the collapse of the tunnels.
Rescue crews, assisted by heavy machinery and sophisticated equipment provided by other mining companies, have been working around the clock since the day of the accident, however, until today, no contact have been made with the miners and no certainty about their condition exists.
View of the general area of the San José Copper and Gold Mine, property of Minera San Esteban - Primera in the Atacama Desert, Chile..
Following the accident, there were reports from the operators of the mine (Minera San Esteban - Primera) that implied there was an emergency refuge with oxygen, food and water capable of sustaining the life of the workers for up to 72 hours. Nevertheless, more than 144 hours since the accident, most everybody on the site remains hopeful that the miners are still alive and that they will be rescued in good condition.
Wives and children of the miners have been waiting for 6 days so far. Anguish is reflected in their faces.
Most of the foundation for that hope, however, comes from words of encouragement from local authorities, the fact that vigorous rescue efforts continue, the mutual support of family and friends gathered at the site and deep-rooted religious beliefs.
A statue of St. Lawrence, protector of miners was brought to the site for a religious ceremony celebrating Miner's Day. The figure wears a miner's helmet and other mining utensils.
Today, officially Miner’s Day in Chile, the Catholic Bishop of Copiapó celebrated Mass at the San Jose site to honour St. Lawrence, guardian Saint of the Miners, and to pray for the prompt rescue of the workers trapped since last Thursday. The ceremony was attended by the families of the miners, First Lady Cecilia Morel, the Minister of Mining and other authorities in the region.
The Bishop of the Atacama Region of Chile celebrates Mass at the site of the accident, presided by the figure of St. Lawrence, protector of miners.
Before participating in this ceremony, visibly moved and affected by the situation, First Lady Cecilia Morel said: "I admire the strength and integrity of the families of the workers; uncertainty is a terrible feeling." "I give all my sympathy to the wives of the miners, the support of a woman who is a mother and who has also suffered losses in her life," said Morel, as reported by "La Tercera" (In Spanish).
President of Chile, Sebastián PIñera, his wife Cecilia Morel, and other government officials visit the location of San José Mine to give their support to the families of the miners.
Chilean President has requested assistance to Canada, Perú, the United States and Australia to deal with this emergency.
"If there is any technology, any knowledge that will help us, we will use it." Piñera said.
Chile is the world’s largest producer of copper and this disaster has raised concerns that copper prices might increase in world markets. This concern is unfounded. Minera San Esteban of Copiapó is a relatively small operation. Most of the copper produced in Chile comes from the very large operations of Chuquicamata and El Teniente, both run by Codelco-Chile, and Minera Escondida, operated by a consortium integrated by BHP Billiton (British), Rio Tinto (Australia), JECO Corporation (Japan) and participation of International Finance Corporation (World Bank).
Intense activity is carried out, day and night, using all available tools and equipment to find and rescue the 33 trapped miners. The location where they may have found refuge is several hundred meters undergroud.
Families and friends of the trapped miners cheer as they see addtional machinery and personnel arriving to the site to work in the rescue operations at the mine.
During the night the relatives of the trapped miners gather around campfires near the mine to fight the very low temperature in the desert while they pray for the wellbeing of their loved ones.
Several campfires burn every night to keep the hopefull families warm.
(Note: Mr. D. Doll P. from "El Diario de Atacama", of Copiapó, kindly provided information and pictures for this report).