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Millions worldwide watch Chilean mine drama unfold

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 | 8:15 p.m. CDT; updated 8:58 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 13, 2010

They were inspired by the miners' fortitude and camaraderie. They were amazed by the engineering feat that saved the men's lives. And they were grateful for some good news for a change.

From Australia to the coal fields of Appalachia, people in seemingly every corner of the world followed the Chilean miners' rescue Wednesday on TV and the Internet, and many were uplifted by the experience.

"It's a heartwarming story. It's family values. It's leadership. It's everything that we should have here," Mark Vannucci said as he watched on a TV at a restaurant in New York's Times Square. His wife, Susan, said: "Instead of those guys in the mine turning on each other, they worked together, they bonded."

The riveting images of the men being brought to the surface to see the sun, breathe fresh air and hug their loved ones for the first time in two months were broadcast live to millions of people in the U.S. and across much of the Middle East, Asia, Europe and Africa throughout the night and during the day.

Viewers were transfixed by the Chilean state video feed: a you-are-there view from a camera mounted on top of the rescue capsule that carried the miners to the surface. It showed the brilliant white light at the end of the tunnel getting bigger and bigger and finally exploding like a starburst as each man ascended.

"It feels like we're all there with them even though we're so far away in London," Jose Torra said in England. "For once it is a story with a good ending."

Some marveled at the miners' capacity to cope for so long and wondered how they would have dealt with the terror and uncertainty.

"It's pretty amazing to see them stay down there that long and not go crazy," said Tamara Craiu, a 21-year-old student from Singapore who is taking classes in London. "I'd go mad."

Many watched the first miner rescued on their laptops late Tuesday night and continued following the drama on their computers at work Wednesday. Joyous reaction poured out across Twitter and Facebook as viewers worldwide witnessed the story unfolding in real time.

Some instantly offered their casting suggestions for a Hollywood movie about the ordeal: Tom Cruise, Ben Affleck, Nicolas Cage. The website Movieline.com suggested five directors, including Ron Howard ("Apollo 13").

In Mexico, some Internet users posted bittersweet messages, praising Chile's government but expressing regret that their country could not save the 65 miners who died in 2006 after an explosion in a coal mine.

In Spain, Elias Saguillo, one of some 50 Spanish coal miners who staged a monthlong underground protest in September over unpaid wages and demands for subsidies, said he and his colleagues followed the Chilean ordeal day after day.

"Mainly we are proud of how the Chilean miners endured. From the first day through to the end, they behaved like true miners," Saguillo said after finishing his shift at the Las Cuevas mine, where he and colleagues spent 28 days at a depth of 1,650 feet.

In China, the rescue was prominently displayed on virtually all the major Chinese news websites. State television ran a segment on its evening broadcast, while the official news agency Xinhua carried an editorial praising the rescue: "For more than two months, the miners, families, citizens and the government all have created a miracle of life. The rescue reflects the shining moment of human nature."

China's mining industry is considered by far the world's deadliest, with more than 2,600 coal miners killed last year in blasts and other accidents. Those figures reflect a decrease from previous years as the government moved to improve safety by shutting down many illegal mines.

The rescue was big news in South Korea, Japan, Germany, France and Poland, a coal mining country that has also suffered many tragic mining accidents.

Clifford Aron, an American businessman who lives in Poland, said he was deeply moved by the heroism of the miners and the quality of Chile's leaders.

"The obvious contrast is with America," said Aron, a 52-year-old Brooklyn native. "With Hurricane Katrina, the Bush administration was completely incompetent and out to lunch on the human tragedy. With the BP oil spill, the Obama approach was to punt over responsibility to BP. The Chileans have shown us what leadership and crisis management is all about. Lives were at stake and the whole machinery of government snapped into action."

He said the miners show stunning resilience.

"This was the most amazing story I had ever seen," he said. "Those miners are the greatest heroes I can think of — for their endurance and solidarity in the most unimaginable conditions. What an inspiration to us all to learn how to get along."

The TV coverage also had special resonance for Todd Russell and Brant Webb, two Australian gold miners who were trapped by an earthquake more than half than a mile underground for two weeks in 2006. Both said they were overcome by emotion as they watched from half a world away.

But Russell, 38, warned that the freed miners face a harsh adjustment. He has suffered from insomnia and nightmares since his rescue and has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, which he blames for the collapse of his marriage.

"They've got a long way to go," he told Australia's Nine Network television. "They're only in the early stages of their release."

In the coalfields of West Virginia, union representative and former coal miner William Chapman was riveted by the images of men — brothers, in a sense — being plucked one by one from what could have been their tomb. "It's a miracle," he said.

West Virginia has seen at least two major coal mining disasters since 2006 — the Sago explosion that left 12 men dead and the Upper Big Branch blast six months ago that killed 29 workers.

The Chilean miners "may be in a different country or whatever," Chapman said, but it doesn't matter. "There's a bond there."

In Los Angeles, the Staples Center played news footage of the rescue on the overhead scoreboard during breaks in play at the Los Angeles Kings-Atlanta Thrashers hockey game, eliciting warm cheers from the crowd.

Expatriate Chileans followed the drama from thousands of miles away.

The manager of a Chilean restaurant in New York City wore a miner's helmet with "Esperanza" — Spanish for "hope" — on it.

At the Sabores Chilenos restaurant in Miami, about 40 people gathered Tuesday night to watch the rescue. As the first miner entered the capsule and began the journey up, they held hands and said the Lord's Prayer — an act Chileans around the U.S. participated in.

"It was the same sensation as seeing images of when man reached the moon," waitress Ingrid Sufan said.

When the first miner reached the surface, the crowd drank champagne and sang the Chilean national anthem.

On Wednesday, people continued to come in and out of the restaurant, eyes glued to the television.

"I'm here, but it's as if I was there," said Pedro Lobolledo, who stopped in on his way to work cleaning a medical building. "Look how I am," he said, pointing to the hairs standing up on his arms.

"We are accustomed to catastrophe," he said, referring to the earthquake that struck Chile earlier this year. "And now a miracle."

 


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Comments

Ellis Smith October 14, 2010 | 4:57 a.m.

An interesting day for TV spectators and a great day for miners worldwide.

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