SANTIAGO, Aug 22 (Reuters) - Thirty-three Chilean miners trapped underground for more than two weeks after a cave-in sent a message to the surface on Sunday confirming they are all alive.
Given the mine is unstable, they face a months-long wait underground as rescue workers dig new tunnels to extract them.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Now that the miners are all confirmed alive, rescue workers are racing to send them narrow plastic tubes called “doves” containing glucose, hydration packets, mineral-enriched water and other supplies. Workers made visual contact with the miners via a television camera, which officials said showed they were in better condition than they expected; the next step will be to send down flashlights and communications equipment. Mining Minister Laurence Golborne estimated that the “doves” would reach the miners later on Sunday night.
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO RESCUE THEM?
Due to the instability of the mine, rescue workers had to abandon efforts to try to make their way past the main cave-in as well as a bid to descend via a ventilation shaft after a fresh collapse.
Mining specialists from state-run copper giant Codelco [CODEL.UL] have approved two possible rescue operations
They will now drill a wider shaft with a bigger, more powerful perforation drill 2,300 feet (700 metres) straight down, which would take an estimated 3 to 4 months to complete.
An alternative plan is to dig a new spiral tunnel of around 2 to 3 miles (3.5 to 5 km) in length to reach them, which could take up to a year.
WHAT WILL BE THE INDUSTRY FALLOUT?
The halt in operations at the small copper and gold mine will barely affect copper output in Chile, the world’s No. 1 copper producer. Lasting effects of the cave-in will be felt throughout the industry, however, as the government has pledged a massive overhaul of mining regulator Sernageomin, which allowed the mine to reopen despite grave safety concerns.
Pinera has already sacked the heads of Sernageomin, and government officials are now calling for the owners of the mine to take responsibility for their part in the accident.
Serious mining accidents are rare in Chile, but the government says the San Jose mine, owned by local private company Compania Minera San Esteban Primera, has suffered a series of mishaps and 16 workers were killed in recent years. (Reporting by Molly Rosbach; editing by Simon Gardner and Mohammad Zargham)
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