'Casino’, football and signs of stress inside the Chile mine where 33 men are trapped until Christmas
EMACIATED, wild eyed and stripped to the waist, with tangled hair and whiskery, dirt streaked faces, they look like a tribe of cavemen living in some twilight netherworld.
Trapped in an eerie underground cavern where nights and days merge, they cling to survival via meagre supplies passed almost half- a- mile down a tiny borehole - their tenuous, umbilical link with the lives they left behind.
Yet, watching the extraordinary first video of the 33 Chilean copper miners trapped in claustrophobic torment for 24 days after a massive collapse at the San Jose mine in northern Chile on August 5, and who have been told it will take months to free them, what strikes you most forcefully is their utter lack of self- pity.
Some of the men may be struggling to keep their emotions in check; some are clearly physically and mentally spent. Despite their nightmarishly cramped and stiflingly humid confines, they have found space to exercise and kick a small football around, and have even set up their own “ casino”, complete with a dominoes table.
There were tears of joy and relief on Friday as their families gathered before a projector, rigged up at the pit- head, to watch the 45- minute video - recorded on a miniature camcorder sent down to the miners so that doctors and psychologists can monitor their well- being and living conditions.
One of the most extrovert miners, 40 year old Mario Sepulveda Espinace, was chosen by the group as the “ presenter”, and he has created a compelling video diary of life in the 50 square yard shelter, and tortuous adjoining passageways, where his comrades are holed up.
“ Here is where we plan what we do all day,” he says, walking across to the “ refuge area” where two men are sitting on a box containing bottled water rations.
When the camera zooms in, we get the first glimpse of a major problem: the damp, muddy ground.
“ I’m going to introduce you to our great writer, our friend Victor Segovia, who has been writing down everything we have gone through since the day the event happened,” he says, gesturing towards a bare chested and exhausted looking figure.
The miners’ chronicler manages a weak smile and raises two thumbs. “ I want to send my regards to my family, especially my wife and daughter, I love them very much,” he says.
His voice breaking with emotion, Segovia adds: “ Don’t worry, everything is going is to be fine.” The camera then shifts to a trestle table, where half a dozen men are playing a game of dominoes, as if they are whiling away the afternoon in some darkened gambling dive.
“This is our casino,” smiles Sepulveda.
“We play dominoes sometimes at nights to entertain ourselves. Please say ‘ Hi!’ guys.” The men wave and several send messages to their families.
Most manage to sound upbeat, but one is clearly fretful and, gazing plaintively into the lens, he implores: “ Get us out of here quickly, please.” They have also set aside a special area for washing and brushing teeth, and, we must presume, using the toilet.
Then, somewhat abruptly changing the tone, Sepulveda urges the camera operator to home in on a calendar adorned with the picture of a naked woman, which is hanging on the wall. “ This one you can’t miss,” he says.
Elsewhere in the shelter there is a shelf stocked with medicine, toothpaste and cleansing alcohol; some of the supplies sent down the borehole. Antidepressant tablets, pocket- sized Bibles, miniature board games, letters of support, a small football, playing cards and nicotine patches to ease the withdrawal symptoms of smokers ( who can’t light up for fear of sparking an explosion) are also being lowered.
Advised by NASA psychologists who train astronauts to withstand long periods in space, the rescue team has also devised a strict routine with an exercise regime and physical games structured in — for several of the miners are of stocky build, and to fit inside the small cage being constructed to carry them to the surface their waistlines must not measure more than 35 inches.
From the video, it is clear that the men are already weak and some have lost up to 10 kg.
However, after stabilizing their weight with chocolate and strawberry- flavored vitamin drinks and a glucose solution, the medical plan is to increase their calorie intake, which is now just 800 a day.
At all events, on video, Sepulveda shows himself to be at pains to reassure the watching world that, come the big day, the men will be fit and ready.
The “ presenter” is determined that the video must end on an upbeat note. “ As I was saying, we are super here, and very happy and secure that with technology very soon they are going to get us out.
I’m very thankful to you and Chile.” It is intended to be the group’s parting message, but a colleague has the final word. “ My friend doesn’t want to get out because outside he’ll have to take a shower,” he quips.
(Sourced from Daily Mail and Live Mint)