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As media circus wanes, Chile miners' families turn spotlight on reporters' antics

Sitting around a campfire in the Atacama Desert, family of the rescued Chile miners laugh about the media's excesses over the past 70 days.

By Steven BodzinCorrespondent / October 15, 2010

Rescued miner Carlos Mamani, from Bolivia, is surrounded by the press as he arrives to his home in Copiapo, Chile, Thursday.

Natacha Pisarenko/AP

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Copiapó, Chile

At 2 a.m. Thursday in Chile's Atacama Desert, family members of newly freed miners gathered around a campfire at Camp Hope. The ubiquitous flat-screen televisions that had aired the rescue of 33 trapped miners were off, and it was for once possible to hear the hiss and pop of charcoal.

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Families were ready for the end of two months of a media frenzy that had opened their private lives to the public.

Three of the miners who spent 70 days trapped in northern Chile were released from the hospital later that day and another 10 were expected to be released Friday, allowing families to return home after becoming famous as a result of the Aug. 5 mine collapse.

RELATED: 5 reasons the Chile mine rescue was so successful

With their brothers, godsons, and nephews safe in the hospital, it was finally time to laugh by the warmth of the crackling fire. Miners' relatives chatted and joked with some of the others who had been at the camp longest – a volunteer, a contractor, a photographer. Most of the jokes were at the expense of news reporters, whose overzealousness or lack of preparation was the biggest cause for laughter.

The plastic tubes that had lowered food and water to the miners through narrow boreholes were called "doves." One family member, who had heard thousands of questions from reporters since arriving at the mine two days after the accident, giggled over one particular question: How, the journalist had asked, are the doves trained to fly down into the mine?

"It's not that we hate the press," Juan Hermosillo, uncle of miner Carlos Barrios, said earlier in the day. "If the press hadn't been here who knows, maybe none of this would have happened," he said, gesturing at the $15 million rescue effort's drills, cranes, and helicopters.

But the media excesses were obvious. Cameramen so stubbornly kept their shot that they wouldn't move aside to let family members gather and celebrate the final rescue. When the first miner was rescued and reunited with his family, reporters caused the tents to collapse in their rush for photos of tears.

Families who had never sought fame were suddenly scrutinized like reality TV stars. One miner, whose wife and girlfriend both went to the mine to support him, has been the subject of stories at home and abroad speculating on his future.

The miners' families were also amazed by reporters' ability to continue to talk even after there was nothing left to say. Many of them live in desert communities and are accustomed to long silences. They laughed as a BBC correspondent kept talking and gesturing to his audience, hour after hour, stepping from foot to foot against the cold.

Some families are returning to communities as far away as Chillan, 750 miles south, and Cochabamba, Bolivia, 700 miles north. But the media coverage isn't over yet.

Here in Copiapó, the families are again facing the press, this time outside the hospital where the miners went after their rescue. Miners themselves are now starting to speak to the press – one of them telling Santiago newspaper La Tercera that he had worried even while in the mine that the rescue would be "celebritized."

RELATED: 5 reasons the Chile mine rescue was so successful

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