Saturday, 16 October 2010

A saga of human endurance

Not every day do we come across stories of human triumph on a grand scale. Wednesday was such a day when the world turned its focus to San Jose near Copiapo, a small nondescript town in northern Chile, to watch the rescue of 33 miners who spent 69 harrowing days inside a mine cut-off from the outside world.

The ordeal began on August 5 when 70,000 tonnes of earth caved in and trapped the miners, including a Bolivian national, 2,000 ft below the surface. Initial efforts to locate the miners failed; with no progress for about two weeks the worst was feared — deaths in the mining sector in Chile are not uncommon; this year alone 36 miners lost their lives. However, on August 22 when the drill probe was lifted to the surface it had a note attached to it which read “We’re fine in the refuge, the 33”. This was enough to lift the sagging spirits of a whole nation united in grief.

President Sebastian Pinera’s government brought in expertise from around the world resulting in the spectacular rescue. The first miner to step out of Fenix 2, the rescue capsule, was Florencio Avalos, and the last miner was the shift-in-charge, Luis Urzua, who like a true leader, guided the trapped miners through the gruelling 69 days and was the last to leave. The manner in which the rescue was organised deserves our unstinted applause. The government has promised to take care of the miners for up to six months and help them readjust to normal life. However, there are issues which need to be addressed, the safety and better working conditions in the mines, not being the least of them. That the blueprints provided for the San Jose mines were outdated and that the escape routes were blocked reflect the fact that employee safety has not been a top priority. Chile, the world’s top copper producer, needs to address this issue head on.

The world has watched every step of this drama which this newspaper has reported at every stage on its world pages. It has been an astonishing sequence of events that we have watched with bated breath, involving as it did, a saga of camaraderie involving 33 miners, untold misery and uncertainty with a happy ending. In due course a more detailed narration, either on print or in celluloid, will no doubt emerge to engage our attention. Till then: Here’s to a great display of human endurance, courage and never-say-die spirit!