Monday, April 18, 2011

Viva Bajo Tierra!

The world watched with bated breath the miracle of thirty-three miners, who were trapped 700 meters (2,300 ft) underground in a mining accident in San Jose Mine (Copiapo, Chile), as they were brought back to the surface after surviving for a record 69 days.

That happened during the end of October 2010. I have just finished reading the first book recently published in Japanese that dealt with this event, roughly five months after the accident. The author is Manuel Pino Toro, a Chilean journalist. The book was translated by a group of Japanese women, headed by Reiko Omatoi - a very speedy accomplishment, which might keep late coming versions at bay. At one time, Camp Esperanze, so named with everybody’s expectations, embraced 2000 people including various professionals (engineers, drillers, doctors and psychologists, NASA), politicians, news media, priests, caterers, not to mention the families of the 33 miners. More books will surely follow and their translations.

I felt the strength of the book was in the behind the scene stories and accounts taken from direct conversations and interviews the Chilean author had with the miners and their family members in Spanish. Most of the headlining stories were already reported on the Web, such as the discovery of a memo scribbled in red ink “estamos bien en el refugio, los 33” attached to the drill bit, the selection of drilling machines, and details of the rescue “Fenix (phoenix)” capsule to lift up 33 miners one at a time.

I believe my guess was right. Families voiced their opinions and banded together to start a law suit. They did not want the whole case to be settled simply as an accident but as a crime with punitive charges against Compana Minera San Esteban, the employer, for being negligent and violating safety rules despite past accidents. Families also demanded using an alternate breakthrough method using explosives as suggested by Juan Ramirez, a fellow expert miner, to get to the trapped miners but were dissuaded by the company. Instead the company used the time consuming drilling method, which they claimed was less risky.

I’d like to point out two interviews in the last two chapters - one "Dios en carne y Hueso" with Jose Henriquez, a preacher and a miner for 33 years and second "Hijos del Desierto (Sons in the desert) with Victor Zamora, born into a mining family.


In the case of Jose, Toro’s interview took place at his home in Talca, 250 km south from Santiago, known for hat chain shops “Talca, Paris & London”, mild climate and greeneries. Jose tactfully escaped the media and settled down finally with an honorary citizen award of San Clemente, the city where he was born. Jose confided their survival was nothing less than a miracle. Based on his previous experiences of surviving accidents, he knew how to act and appoint roles to individuals. After exhausting all options, they started to pray with Jose as a spiritual leader.

“I told guys God is with us. Let God guide us all! I’m an Evangelist. If that is acceptable and sharable, let’s pray together. I talked about what I know from Bible, I answered their questions." "The hardest thing was the unbearable temperature. But once communication was established, we were all encouraged to live on. We appreciated all the stuff sent down, food, water, high-tech LEDs, video cameras, Bible, …, etc."


My duty was to check how much food was available in the refugio, with a flickering lamp about to go out. The finding was very disappointing. There was only food for two days, but there were enough spoons and forks for 100 people. We had milk but it was spoiled. There were 19 cans of tuna and 15 liters of water. We decided we would have to accept the situation and follow a rationing plan. We ate very little at a time. Each person equally took one spoonful of tuna in 12 hours. Then one spoonful after 24 hours, then one after 36 hours, then another after 48 hours, …, etc. After a few days, only one can of tuna was left. We didn’t touch it. We kept it to symbolize our survival. Jose helped us a great deal in organizing everything. I felt calm listening to Jose’s talk and felt reassured of my survival. “To get God’s blessing, you have to love your neighbors”, he wrote to his mother from underground.

No comments: