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Chile: miners alive but rescue may be months away

Chile's miners are alive, all 33 of them, after 17 days trapped in a collapsed mine. "Today all of Chile is crying with excitement and joy," President Sebastian Pinera said. But it may be until Christmas before the trapped miners can be rescued.

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"Even if we have to wait months to communicate. ... I want to tell everyone that I'm good and we'll surely come out OK," Gomez wrote, scrawling the words on a sheet of notebook paper the miners tied to the probe. "Patience and faith. God is great and the help of my God is going to make it possible to leave this mine alive."

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Mine officials and relatives of the workers had hoped the men reached a shelter below where the tunnel collapsed Aug. 5 at the San Jose gold and copper mine about 530 miles (850 kilometers) north of the capital, Santiago. But they had said the shelter's emergency air and food supplies would last only 48 hours.
Gomez wrote that the miners used vehicles for light and a backhoe to dig a channel to retrieve underground water.

It was unclear whether their air supply was in danger of running out.

Rescuers had drilled repeatedly in an effort to reach the shelter, but failed seven times. They blamed the errors on the mining company's maps. According to Gomez's note, at least some of those earlier probes were close enough that the trapped miners heard them. The eighth attempt finally worked.
Gomez's note, which the president read aloud on live television, focused on expressions of faith and love for his family. But frustration also showed through in one line, where he declared that "this company has got to modernize."

Chile is the world's top copper producer and a leading gold producer, and has some of the world's most advanced mining operations. But both the company that owns the mine, San Esteban, and the National Mining and Geology Service have been criticized for allegedly failing to comply with regulations. In 2007, an explosion at the San Jose mine killed three workers.

Liliana Ramirez couldn't believe it when Chile's mining minister said her husband had sent a note to his "Dearest Lila."
"I know my husband is strong, and at 63, is the most experienced miner who could lead his co-workers," she said, but she vowed to keep him above ground once he's rescued.

Authorities and relatives of the miners hugged, climbed a nearby hill, planted 33 flags and sang Chile's national anthem after discovering the miners had survived.

Along the length of Chile, horns honked, flags waved and people watched the drama unfold live on television and computer screens. It was a rush of good news in a country still rebuilding from a magnitude-8.8 earthquake Feb. 27 and its resulting tsunami, which together killed at least 521 people and left 200,000 homeless.

Associated Press writers Federico Quilodran in Santiago, Chile, Peter Orsi in Mexico City and Michael Warren in Buenos Aires contributed to this report.

IN PICTURES: Chile mine collapse

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