Miracle beneath: Inside the Chile mine collapse

Survival

On August 5, 2010, the San José copper and gold mine outside Copiapó, Chile, collapsed. For 69 days, the world held its breath while 33 trapped miners stared death in the face, and prayed to God for help. A new book tells the gripping tale.

- National Catholic Reporter

Deep Down Dark: The untold stories of 33 men buried in a Chilean mine, and the miracle that set them free by Hector Tobar (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

In a series of explosions, a complex network of tunnels, miles below the surface, had fallen in upon itself and sealed itself off, as if quarantined by thousands of feet of rock, from the world above. For each of those 69 days underground, the trapped men told death to "back off. We're not ready for you yet."

Héctor Tobar, novelist and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Los Angeles Times, has produced a nonfiction classic.

Drawing upon interviews with the survivors, their families and the rescuers, plus photographs, Chilean newspapers and legal documents, he presents a profound, sensitive examination of how otherwise ordinary working men respond to a crisis; how mine owners and government officials responsible for the mine's safety react; how the victims' families, including the alienated, must rethink their relationships.

Rescue is not always salvation, but rather a door to another room. Success has its own power to destroy.

The 121-year-old mine is a virtual underground city. Its central road (and only exit), called "the Ramp," is carved through stone.

It spirals down for eight km, a 40-minute drive, past a room called "the Refuge," an emergency shelter or break space where fresh air is pumped in from the surface.

Most of the men live in Copiapó, while some commute weekly, travelling 800 km from Santiago to work seven straight days of 12-hour shifts for a minimum of $1,200 a month. The wage wins them a middle-class lifestyle, but turns them into "beasts of burden," haunted daily by subterranean death.

Tobar tells us that this day, one way or another, each man on the shift goes into the mine for the woman in his life - a wife, girlfriend, mother or daughter.

One, Jimmy Sánchez, 18, is too young to work there legally, but his relatives begged the mine owners to give him the job because his girlfriend is pregnant.

Alex Vega, small and handsome, had to say goodbye to his wife without a kiss because she was angry at him, but forgets the reason. Yonni Barrios lives with his mistress, while his wife lives on the next block, and he needs the salary to support them both. One legend compares the mountain to a woman who tries to kill the men because they violate her body.

Read full article: 33 miners who stared death in the face (National Catholic Reporter)

PHOTO: Miner Mario Gómez prays as he arrives on the surface after being rescued in Copiapó, Chile, Oct. 13, 2010. (CNS/Reuters/Hugo Infante-Government of Chile)

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