Chile miners send "souvenirs" from hellish depths

COPIAPO, Chile Fri Oct 8, 2010 8:37pm EDT

1 of 2. A member of a media talks to on a mobile phone in front a banner printed with the miners' portraits at the San Jose copper and gold mine where 33 miners are trapped from an accident on August 5 near Copiapo, October 7, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Luis Hidalgo

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COPIAPO, Chile (Reuters) - They have spent two months dreaming of escaping "hell" after a cave-in buried them alive deep underground, but some of Chile's 33 trapped miners are sending keepsakes of their ordeal up to the surface.

Sensing freedom may come within days, miner Daniel Herrera wants to keep the letters his relatives sent to him down a narrow drill hole the diameter of a grapefruit to keep his spirits up during the agonizing rescue bid.

He even wants to keep the clothes he wore in the humid tunnel 2,300 feet below ground at the small gold and copper mine in Chile's far northern Atacama desert, stuffing them into narrow plastic tubes used to transport food and medicine to keep the miners alive.

"He sent a lot of bags!" said Herrera's sister Calda. "He says that when he gets out, he's going to add a second story to the house where we live and put all his things on display in a room."

In one of the most challenging rescue operations in mining history, engineers are expected to finish drilling a shaft down to the miners by Saturday. The government says it will then take three to 10 days to hoist them to the surface one at a time in special capsules.

President Sebastian Pinera and the miners themselves have called the tunnel where the men are trapped a 'hell.' Pinera has fired the head of the country's mine safety regulator and announced plans to tighten codes in light of the accident.

Trapped miner Dario Segovia is planning to dedicate a room at his house to his belongings from the mine, and plans to preserve a red, white and blue Chilean flag he was sent down in the mine as well as crucifixes. He is also keeping his used clothes.

"Each miner has a box where their things are being kept," said his brother Mario. "I sent him down a flag, and he sent it back up, signed by all 33 miners."

Others are less ambitious, but still want to hold on to souvenirs, like rosaries sent to them by Pope Benedict.

Miner Jorge Galleguillos sent three plastic tubes containing garments and pieces of metal to his friend Miguel Valenzuela on the surface. Valenzuela had been due to enter the mine on the late shift on August 5, the day the mine collapsed.

"We've been friends for years," Valenzuela said. "I'm keeping them for him as souvenirs," he added, holding up the plastic tubes he was sent.

(Writing by Simon Gardner; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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