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Published: 8/24/2010

Miners made 2 days' food last 2 weeks

BLADE NEWS SERVICES

COPIAPO, Chile - Each of the 33 miners trapped a half-mile underground lived on two spoonfuls of tuna, a sip of milk, a bite of crackers, and a morsel of peaches.

Every other day.

They were so careful in eating what was supposed to be a two-day emergency supply that when the outside world reached them 17 days after a mine collapse, they still had some food left.

The discipline the men have shown will be essential during the four months it may take rescuers to dig a hole wide enough to get them out of their shelter.

The first communications with the trapped miners, now able to talk through a fixed line with their rescuers above - show how determined they have been to stay alive.

"We heard them with such strength, such spirit, which is a reflection of what for them has been a gigantic fortitude and a very well-organized effort," Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said Tuesday after talking with the miners through the intercom system.

To avoid hurting morale, officials have not told the miners how much longer they may be underground.

The government plans to send the miners card games and dominoes to help them pass the time and will feed electricity down a small bore-hole to run different types of lighting to mimic the sensation of night and day.

The time already passed is one of the longest periods trapped miners have survived underground.

The miners were plunged into darkness by the Aug. 5 collapse of the main shaft of a gold and copper mine that runs like a corkscrew for more than four miles under a barren mountain in northern Chile's Atacama desert.

They gained contact with the outside world Sunday when rescuers drilled a narrow bore-hole down to their living-room-sized shelter after seven failed attempts.

The miners said they honored the same hierarchy they used on any work shift, following the directions of 54-year-old shift foreman Luis Urzua.

They conserved the use of their helmet lamps, their only source of light other than a handful of vehicles with engines that contaminate the air supply.

They fired up a bulldozer to carve into a natural water deposit, but otherwise minimized using the vehicles.

The miners can still reach many chambers, as well as ramps in the lower reaches of the mine, but they have mostly stayed in the refuge, where they knew rescuers would try to reach them.

Rescue efforts advanced considerably as a third bore-hole neared the miners.

Andres Sougarret, the rescue effort's leader, estimated that bringing the men to the surface would take three to four months.

But Davitt McAteer, a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, called that "perhaps the most conservative model."

"Twenty-five hundred feet is not a terribly, terribly big hole to drill," Mr. McAteer said.

"We ought to be able to get them out in a period of weeks, not months."



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