Latin America & Caribbean

Chile miners' families mark first month since cave-in

Monica Quispe, wife of trapped Bolivian miner Carlos Mamani, holds their baby next to a Bolivian flag outside the San Jose mine
Image caption The miners' families have been camping at the San Jose mine since the tunnel collapse a month ago

Relatives of 33 miners trapped underground in Chile have held a ceremony to mark one month since the mineshaft collapsed.

They sounded horns and whistles as a flag for each miner was planted in the ground at the estimated time the cave-in happened on 5 August.

The miners' names were read out to loud shouts of "Viva!" from the crowd.

Engineers were about to start drilling a second rescue tunnel to increase their chances of reaching the miners.

It is not known which rescue shaft will reach the miners first, but the work is expected to take between two and four months.

The first drill has so far penetrated only 50m (164ft) of the 700m (2,300ft) of rock separating the men from the surface.

Video contact

On Saturday, relatives were able to speak to the miners via video link for the first time.

Each miner spoke for a minute with their families thanks to a fibre optic cable.

The families could see and hear the miners, but the miners could only hear them.

Omar Reygadas, whose father is trapped in the mine, told the BBC the contact had raised spirits.

"He told us he was very well. He had shaved and cut his hair. It was beautiful," he said.

"We told him: 'We love you, we are waiting for you here, keep your spirits up.'"

Image caption The families were able to speak to their families via video conference for the first time on Saturday

Some others said the miners were becoming demoralised as the reality sunk in that it would be many weeks before they could get out.

"They were angry, because fatigue was beginning to set in," said Alejandro Zamora, whose brother Victor is trapped in the mine.

"My brother was so angry he was not able to speak," he told the AFP news agency. "He was not in a very good mood."

The miners have become national heroes in Chile since 22 August, when a drill probe reached the underground shelter where they had survived for 17 days without contact with the outside world.

Many had given them up for lost, but they had kept alive underground by rationing emergency food supplies.

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