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Chile: It's a waiting game at makeshift camps

Dozens of tents line the road that leads to the mine as families prepare for a long wait.

SAN JOSE MINE, Chile — Like many in Chile’s newest village, “Camp Hope,” Elizabeth Segovia hurried to the mine when she learned that her brother Dario was trapped three miles inside.

Today, on her 50th birthday, her greatest wish is about to be granted: an enormous, 31-ton drill last night began carving out the rescue hole for her brother, one of 33 miners who have been caught below the hard rock of the northern Atacama Desert since Aug. 5.

“I never gave up faith that they were alive,” said Segovia, sipping on a mate next to a bonfire in the chilly desert. “We are calm, but we will not leave here no matter how long it takes to get them out.”

Dozens of tents line the winding road that leads to the entrance to the copper and gold mine, as the families of the miners, who have traveled here from all over the country, have set up camp to keep vigil for their loved ones.

The local municipalities provide them with food, psychological care, child care, firewood and daily transport into the nearby city of Copiapo.

The international and national press keep them amply busy, peppering them with questions.

Now, the families are not only able to exchange daily letters with the miners through the long bore holes drilled last week, but they are also able to talk with the miners through a recently set-up phone line.

Nobody has benefited more from those communication links than Cristina Nunez, 26. Four days ago, she received a marriage proposal from one of the miners, Claudio Yanez, 34.

“We only got to speak for less than a minute, and I reluctantly said yes,” laughs Nunez. “But I am super happy. He told me he wants to get married as soon as he gets out,” she said.

While the living situation is obviously difficult at 2,300 feet below ground, one miner, Roberto Castillo, 41, who was a supervisor of miner workers at the San Jose mine, said he is confident that the 33 miners are fine because they are more than accustomed to their surroundings.

“We are used to being in a mine. It’s like a second home for us,” said Castillo. “We miners spend more time in the mines than than we do in our own homes,” he said.

Chile has put the full weight of its resources behind the rescue effort, which may cost as much as $10 million for the high-tech drills and the large, sophisticated support system set up to care for the trapped miners and their families that even involves a team of experts from the U.S. space agency NASA.

Chilean Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said the rescue effort could take from three to four months to complete. Though, a recently announced “Plan B,” utilizing a faster drilling technology at an existing hole that is situated closer to the miners, could more than halve the time estimated needed to drill a rescue route.

In a press conference this morning, Chile President Sebastian Pinera referred to both of the drilling plans underway and reiterated that the government would “do everything humanly possible” to get the miners out of the mine before Christmas.