Rescuers have successfully drilled down into the deep chamber where 33 Chilean miners have spent more than two months trapped half a mile underground, but officials say the miners won't see the light of day until at least Tuesday.
Sirens and bells rang out across the Chilean desert at around 8 a.m. local time today, signaling that one of three drills safely penetrated an underground pocket where the miners have survived for the past 66 days. Cheers went up through crowds at "Camp Hope," a cluster of tents and kiosks where relatives have kept a vigil for their loved ones. Children lit candles for hope, and women applied makeup ahead of tearful reunions.
Ecstatic well-wishers sprinted up to the crest of a misty hill where 33 flags have flown as symbols of hope for the miners' rescue.
"God be willing, in a few days the whole country will be weeping with joy... when we see these miners emerge from the depths of the mountain to embrace their wives, children, mothers and fathers," said President Sebastian Pinera, according to Agence-France Presse.
But the hardest part may well be ahead. Officials now must decide whether to line the rocky rescue shaft with a heavy steel casing, or try to pull the miners up through the narrow passageway one-by-one without reinforcing it first. Both options have pitfalls. The steel pipe would shield the miners from falling rocks, but inserting the heavy apparatus itself is risky, and could potentially cause a collapse or get jammed in the rescue hole.
"You would have to put though a 600-meter hole a lot of pipes that weigh more than 150 tons," Golborne warned, according to The Associated Press. "And this structure can be set in a position that also could block the movement of the Phoenix (escape capsule). It's not an easy decision to make."
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