Keeping Chile’s trapped miners alive

Gideon Long Aug 25, 2010
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Keeping Chile’s trapped miners alive

Gideon Long Aug 25, 2010
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW

BOB MOON: Thirty three miners trapped a half-mile underground for nearly three weeks have not been told how much longer they’ll likely be stuck. But government reports say the ordeal could last several months, challenging the health and safety of the miners. Gideon Long is the BBC’s reporter in Chile and he visited the mine yesterday. This morning he joins us live to talk about how the mine collapse exposes the danger of the job. Good morning.

GIDEON LONG: Good morning there Bob.

MOON: Gideo, we know mining is a dangerous job. But are things any different in Chile, which is so dependent on mining for its economy.

LONG: Well, the short answer is no. Mining is obviously an intrinsically dangerous industry anywhere in the world. I would say, though, that Chile has a fairly good safety record in this area. It’s a country which is steeped in mining tradition. It’s absolutely essential to the economy. Mining accounts for over a half of Chile’s export revenues. And this one country produces a third of all the copper in the world. And that means that they’ve got a long history of mining. Generally, safety standards around Chile’s mines are very good. But it’s a mixed picture. At the big mines, the safety standards tend to be good. But there are hundreds of smaller mines dotted around the country, where maybe things aren’t quite so good.

MOON: You visited the mine. Set the scene for us.

LONG: That’s right. I was up at the mine yesterday. It’s bustling with activity. We were allowed to get as far as the entrance. We can see in where they’re starting this drilling operation to try and rescue the miners. And just down below there is a camp, which has been set up, where the relatives of the miners are basing themselves. They’re living in tents. They’ve been there for over two weeks now. They’ve set up little shrines in the rocks, shrines to the miners down below with personal mementos, messages of goodwill from passersby and photographs of the miners as well. So it has a sense of permanence. The local authorities here have set up food so they have something to eat. It feels like they will be there for some time.

MOON: And how are they planning for keeping them safe, health and alive for months down the road here?

LONG: Well now they’ve established this bore hole, 700 meters through the rock, which allows them to drop food and water down to the miners. So they can now keep them alive. They’ve also dropped medical supplies down there and they’ve had some communication. They’ve managed to drop down a phone line down there and a camera, so they can see what’s happening down there and they can speak to them. I think going forward from here, the key thing is going to be how they look after their psychological health, how they keep them sane, how they keep their spirits up. Interestingly, the Chilean government has been talking to NASA about this to get some information about how they train their astronauts. It’s a slightly different situation because obviously astronauts know they are going up into space, they can prepare psychologically. These guys went into the mine thinking they’ll be back in time for dinner. So it’s different in that sense, but otherwise it’s quite similar. These guys are going to be in isolation for months. So the Chilean government is talking to NASA to try and learn from NASA’s experience with astronauts.

MOON: The BBC’s Gideon Long in Copiapo, Chile. Thanks.

LONG: Thank you.

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