World News

Trapped Chilean miners' next challenge: celebrity

COPIAPO, Chile (Reuters) - Once completely cut off from the outside world, 33 miners trapped for more than a month deep below the Chilean desert could face their next big challenge on the surface -- dealing with the media furor.

The long bid to rescue the men has kept Chileans glued to their televisions and catapulted them to fame since their mine caved in on Aug 5.

The miners, now known in Chile as “Los 33” (The 33), have received job offers, rosaries blessed by Pope Benedict and messages of support from World Cup soccer stars to presidents.

As rescuers drill two escape shafts that could take months to reach them, doctors are working to keep the miners mentally fit in a cramped space the size of an apartment buried 2,300 feet below the surface.

The miners have set up daily work shifts and are simulating night and day conditions with red lights. They are able to exchange letters with relatives by sending the messages in plastic tubes through narrow supply chutes.

But doctors have yet to prepare the men for their return to life in the outside world.

“When these miners come out ... there will be a lot of pressure on them from society, the media, others wanting part of their time,” said Michael Duncan, NASA’s deputy chief medical officer, who advised the rescuers on the effects of prolonged isolation in confined spaces, as in space travel.

“I think the Chileans have not got to the point of thinking how difficult this post-rescue effort is going to be.”

That fame has already turned into a double-edged sword for some of their relatives above ground who are becoming familiar faces on television with around-the-clock news coverage.

Sisters have publicly bickered over who gets the spotlight while others accuse relatives of making a profit from the tragedy by appearing on paid chat shows.

Maria Segovia, who makes a living selling pies, is taking her new-found fame in her stride.

“I get recognized everywhere I go, even when I’m off selling meat pies in the market,” said Segovia, who has been dubbed the mayor of “Hope Camp” -- the makeshift settlement for relatives near to the mine. “They’re always asking me if I’m the sister of the trapped miner who is always on TV.”

Additional reporting by Irene Klotz in Cape Canaveral; Writing by Alonso Soto