The World: Chilean miners close to Freedom

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The 33 Chilean miners trapped for more than 60 days underground could start to emerge on Wednesday. Correspondent Steven Bodzin reports from the camp set up near the mine.

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LISA MULLINS: We turn now to Chile and those 33 miners who’ve been trapped underground for the past two months. There was a test today of the narrow steel capsule that’s going to be used to try to rescue the miners. The capsule was lowered 2,000 feet to slightly above where they are. The test went without a hitch. Earlier today, rescuers installed a metal casing at the top of the shaft. That’s to help prevent rockfalls. Above ground, the families of the miners remain camped at the site in what’s become a small town. Steven Bodzin sets the scene.

STEVEN BODZIN: Saturday morning, these bells announced that a gigantic drill bit had penetrated a tunnel deep underfoot. At first, family members and supporters hugged and laughed. But they soon went back to cooking, listening to music, and just waiting around. Now, as the rescue gets closer, people are getting nervous as they prepare to see relatives who’ve been gone for months. Carmen Beaza’s husband Juan Illanes is in the mine.

SPEAKING SPANISH

CARMEN BEAZA: What we’re hearing is that the rescue could be Wednesday, Thursday at the latest. But yeah, there’s a lot of anxiety. You have to have patience.

BODZIN: Margarita Guzman has been teaching at the makeshift one-room schoolhouse set up here for the miners’ children. She says her eight students are used to waiting, but they too are feeling the pressure.

SPEAKING SPANISH

MARGARITA GUZMAN: Yes, now they are more anxious. It’s an anxiety, now that their family members are going to get out soon. They’re starting to say, “My dad is going to get out soon, and we’re going to be with my daddy, with our grandpa.” And they are thinking about what’s going to happen on the day.

BODZIN: Janet Rivera, a local government employee who has been working feeding people at the camp, says the nerves come from worries about what may go wrong.

SPEAKING SPANISH

JANET RIVERA: You never know. If something happens. That’s why people are nervous. You never know until they’re out, right? All of them.

BODZIN: There’s still a lot that could go wrong with this rescue. No one’s ever been brought back to the surface after spending two months trapped some 2,000 feet underground. That’s almost as tall as two Empire State Buildings, one on top of the other. At the camp, priests, psychologists and even clowns are on hand to soothe people’s spirits and pass the time. Musicians came to a church service last night and performed this song about the miners. Underground, there is less time to worry. The rescue organizers are giving the miners hard work to do. They are preparing the underground staging area with explosives and heavy machinery. Miners are also doing intense rounds of exercise to prepare themselves for anything that may go wrong during the 20 minute trip to the surface. And they have received a course in how to handle interviews, even though they’ll be separated from reporters when they first get out. Health Minister Jaime Manalich said the men are in good spirits, but some of them, too, are getting anxious. Some are having trouble sleeping.

JAIME MANALICH: They are experience difficulties for to sleep, for instance. But even though I have to say that, they are even calmer, more quiet than we are, here.

BODZIN: But it won’t be that quiet when the miners finally emerge. The families are there, but so are more than a 1,000 journalists, waiting to hear what it was like to spend more than 60 days trapped underground. For The World, this Steven Bodzin in the Atacama Region, Chile.

Copyright ©2009 PRI’s THE WORLD. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to PRI’s THE WORLD. This transcript may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without prior written permission. For further information, please email The World’s Permissions Coordinator at theworld@pri.org.

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About Steven Bodzin

Steven Bodzin is a reporter. He blogged when he was a freelancer.

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