Exhausted but happy, Chile miners' families savor heroic rescue

With all 33 Chile miners rescued from the San Jose mine, families celebrated the end of 70 exhausting days – and quickly started to strike their camp and pack for home.

By , Correspondent

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    The last miner to be rescued, Luis Urzua, who is credited with organizing the miners to ration food and save themselves, gestures next to Chilean President Sebastian Pinera (r.) at the end of the rescue operation at San Jose mine in Copiapo Wednesday.
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After 70 scorching days and frigid nights waiting in the desert, the families of 33 miners in northern Chile can finally let down their guard.

The last of the miners was hauled to the surface at about 10 p.m. local time, capping the longest such confinement to have ended with the miners alive.

Families here slept little in recent days as they awaited the impending rescue of their loved ones. That lack of sleep, piled atop months of frustration, joy, and often unspoken fears have left many people with just one thing they want to do: sleep.

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"I am totally tired out," said Priscila Avalos, holding her daughter on her lap under a nylon awning at the collection of tents known as Camp Hope, where she had rushed after two of her brothers were trapped in the mine accident on Aug. 5. Her two kids looked equally exhausted.

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Over the course of the day, the excitement of the rescue gradually waned. While the first rescue, of Ms. Avalos's brother Florencio, provoked chants and cheers at every step, by afternoon, the process had become routine.

Each new rescue brought a few cheers and party horns, which quickly faded as people returned to their chatting, interviewing, and joking around. Then, when a webcam from underground showed Luis Urzua, the final miner, getting into the capsule and starting his ascent, excitement grew again. Families sang the Chilean national anthem, chanted, and released mylar balloons festooned with the Chilean flag that had been handed out by Rolly the clown, who has entertained family members at the site for more than a month.

A protective cordon of smooth-faced national police kept close watch, with one young officer swallowing again and again, fighting back tears. But the families had no such inhibitions. Many were misty-eyed before the capsule emerged. And the instant that Mr. Urzua got out of his cage, the families celebrated. Minutes later, many family members were back to their campfires, packing for home.

"The nightmare's over," said Rosana Cortez, whose brother Pedro was the 31st to be brought to freedom. "We can get back to life."

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