A year to the day after the high-profile rescue of 33 miners who were trapped in a 700m-deep mine shaft under northern Chile’s Atacama desert, some are still struggling to come to terms with their long underground experience.
AFP - One year ago a cave-in trapped 33 men deep inside this mine in northern Chile's Atacama desert -- and for the next two months the world's attention was riveted on their rescue. Today it is remarkable only by how bleak and empty it is.
Gone is any trace of the makeshift tent city dubbed "Camp Hope," home to nearly 3,500 people including relatives of the miners trapped 700 meters underground.
The 60-centimeter (two-feet) wide hold where the miners were pulled out in mid-October, inside a single-person metal capsule, has been sealed by a thick cement plug.
The only trace of the three enormous excavators used in a frantic effort to drill a shaft to reach the trapped miners are concrete bases embedded in the dry, rocky ground.
"Weeks have gone by without visitors," said Sergio, a site caretaker, told AFP.
Metal fences block the main entrance to the copper and gold mine and a sign warns "Danger - Do Not Enter." Work has ceased at the site because the owners, the San Esteban mining company, are being sued by the formerly trapped miners.
One of the last objects used in the rescue still in place is a machine that sent small capsules down a narrow borehole to the miners, carrying food and supplies and returning with letters -- their only link to the outside world.
Jimmy Sanchez, the youngest miner and the fifth man pulled to the surface, is still coming to terms with his long underground ordeal.
"Inside I was more relaxed," Sanchez, 20, told AFP in an interview at his home in the nearby town of Copiapo.
"Now I'm weird. I've changed... I used to be happier, I'd always go out, I liked to talk. I don't go out any more, I feel lonely," he said.
Sanchez had been working for only a few months at the San Jose mine when he was trapped by the cave-in.
Since his rescue Sanchez has traveled with his 32 comrades to the United States, Britain, Greece and Israel, accepting invitations to recount their incredible story of survival.
Doctors have been monitoring the health of the miners since their rescue, and in December Sanchez was declared healthy. Today he no longer sees a psychologist.
Sanchez wants to go back to working as a miner, but he hasn't managed to get a job. "I like what I do," he said.
Like all the other miners, Sanchez received a $10,000 gift from Chilean mining magnate Leonardo Farkas. What happened to the money? "I spent it buying things," he says, clearly uncomfortable.
Sanchez's father Juan has built a shrine of sorts memorializing the event in a room of their humble home, complete with magazine covers and newspaper stories recounting their incredible rescue.
The collection includes the dark sun glasses Sanchez wore when he emerged to the surface after some 69 days in the darkness; the heavy shoes he wore in the mine; a Chilean flag signed by his comrades; and the nearly 60 letters that Jimmy wrote while underground.
SLIDESHOW: Chile Miners Rescue
Aug. 5 - The San Jose gold and copper mine, 800 km north of Santiago in the Atacama desert, collapses. Thirty-three miners are trapped 700 metres beneath the surface. (Photo: AFP)
It is a landslide that causes the collapse of the mine, trapping the 33 miners (32 Chileans, 1 Bolivian). (Photo: AFP)
The missing miners manage to pass up a message scribbled on a piece of paper: "We're fine, thirty-three, in the shelter", to the relief of family members. (Photo: AFP)
Aug. 26 - The world sees the first images of the trapped miners filmed by a camera lowered through a guide hole. (Photo: AFP)
The miners take refuge in an underground airspace about 1.5 km long. They survived by drinking water run-off, sharing cans of tuna and drinking a half-glass of milk every other day. (Photo: AFP)
Aug. 30 - Drilling begins on a relief well. The first tunnel, 33 cm in diameter, is tested and later expanded to 66 cm. (Photo: AFP)
Oct. 9 - A relief well, dubbed "Plan B", reaches 622 metres down. Rescue, now a near-certainty, is announced as being only days away. (Photo: AFP)
Juan Illanes was the third miner rescued after 69 days spent underground. Upon his release, he is transferred to a hospital for medical examination. (Photo: Flickr, Hugo Infante)
Juan Illanes, the third miner hoisted up safely, hugs Chilean President Sebastian Pinera. (Photo: Flickr, Hugo Infante)
Mario Sepulveda Espina, the second saved miner, greets the cameras. (Photo: Flickr, Hugo Infante)
Mario Sepulveda Espina does a celebratory walkabout before being taken to hospital for preliminary examinations. (Photo: Flickr, Hugo Infante)
Laurence Golborne, the minister of mines, and Chilean President Sebastian Pinera celebrate while watching the first successful rescues. (Photo: Flickr, Hugo Infante)
Jimmy Sanchez, 19, became the fifth miner rescued by the capsule. (Photo: Flickr, Hugo Infante)
Carlos Mamani, 23, was the fourth miner rescued. (Photo: Flickr, Hugo Infante)
Mario Gomez, 59, was the oldest miner rescued. (Photo : Flickr, Hugo Infante)
Jorge Galleguillos, 55, receives an embrace from Bolivian President Evo Morales after exiting the mine. (Photo : Flickr, Hugo Infante)
Date created : 2011-08-05