LIMA – An operation to rescue nine workers trapped inside a mine in southern Peru concluded successfully Wednesday, bringing an end to a mission that President Ollanta Humala witnessed in person and Peruvians nationwide followed live on television.
The miners, apparently in good condition despite being trapped since last Thursday, exited through the main tunnel of the small copper mine shortly after 7:00 a.m. and were greeted by their relatives, Humala and other government officials.
The rescued miners were identified as Jacinto Pariona, 59; his son, 32-year-old Roger Pariona; Felix Cucho Aguilar, 41; Edwin Bellido, 34; and brothers Santiago and Juan Tapia, aged 22 and 23, respectively.
Carlos Huamani, 47; Jesus Ccapatinta Raymi, 35; and Julio Cesar Huayta, for which no further information was provided, also were brought to safety.
After they were rescued, two of the miners told Radio Programas del Peru, or RPP, of their nearly six-day ordeal.
Bellido said the miners were stranded in a 50-meter-long (165-foot-long) passageway and that they danced and ran around to pass the time.
It was “an ugly, muddy place. We told each other jokes and we would ask what day it was through the tube” that provided them with oxygen, food and water and allowed them to communicate with rescue workers outside the mine, Bellido said.
“Be happy my little girls because I’ve pretty much been returned to life,” Bellido said, referring to his young daughters.
Ccapatinta, another of the rescued miners, said he and the other men experienced “a hellish ordeal” but that he still plans to continue working in the mines, albeit under better safety conditions.
Although the cave-in occurred Thursday at midday, the rescue effort began Saturday with assistance and equipment provided by mining giants operating in the Andean nation.
The experts had to construct wooden formwork inside the access tunnel to prevent constant landslides in and around the mine from delaying the rescue effort.
Previous operators of the abandoned copper mine had ignored a legal requirement to dynamite the entrance after abandoning it in the 1990s. Since then, so-called “informal miners” had worked the deposit without adequate safety conditions.
“Task and mission accomplished,” Humala said at the conclusion of the rescue effort.
The president, however, warned of the dangers facing informal miners and underscored his administration’s efforts to regulate the sector.
“This informal mining work risks people’s lives and family’s stability. We need to formalize” the sector, the president said.
Humala said one of the freed miners is an unidentified ex-army artilleryman who accompanied him in the military rebellion he led in 2000 against then-President Alberto Fujimori’s administration.
The miners wore dark sunglasses as they stepped out of the mine, recalling the scene in northern Chile in October 2010 when a group of 33 miners shielded their eyes as they emerged to the surface after a 69-day ordeal that made headlines worldwide.
They were initially examined by health personnel and will be hospitalized in the city of Ica, 38 kilometers (25 miles) from the mine, while they and their families also will receive psychological care.
The entrance to the mine will likely be dynamited in the coming days, several experts who participated in the rescue operation said. EFE