Latin America & Caribbean

Five trapped Chile miners 'depressed'

Families watch miners on video in Copiapo, 27/08
Image caption Relatives were shown a self-made video of the men

Some of the Chilean miners trapped in a collapsed shaft have begun to show signs of depression, officials say.

Health Minister Jaime Manalich said five of the 33 miners, trapped 700m (2,300ft) below ground, were not eating properly and had refused to be filmed.

Mr Manalich said psychologists would attempt to treat the men from the surface over an intercom system.

Engineers say work on an escape tunnel, which may take four months to reach the miners, will have started by Monday.

The men, who have already been stuck in the shaft for three weeks, were only discovered on 22 August.

'Very isolated'

A small tunnel has been drilled down to them from the surface to allow supplies to be sent down.

Heavy machinery from Spain and Australia, including a 29-ton hydraulic bore, is now being assembled to drill the escape tunnel.

Despite their ordeal, most of the men looked relatively upbeat in a self-made film broadcast on Chilean TV on Thursday.

However, Mr Manalich said five of the men were not seen on the film.

"They are very isolated, they did not want to appear on the film, they are not eating well," he said.

"I would say depression is the right word."

Relatives of the 33 men have camped out at the surface of the San Jose mine, near the city of Copiapo, some 725km (450 miles) north of Santiago.

The BBC's James Reynolds, in Copiapo, says the relatives are being urged to write to their loved ones as often as possible as part of the effort to keep the men's spirits up.

Legal moves

Meanwhile, the families are questioning why the mine was allowed to reopen in 2008, a year after it had been shut because of an accident.

Media captionThe BBC's Gideon Long describes the footage of the miners as they sent greetings from underground

Relatives of 28 of the miners are suing both San Esteban Mining, which owns the mine, and several safety inspectors from the country's mining body, which allowed the mine to reopen.

San Esteban's owners, Alejandro Bohn and Marcelo Kemeny, have denied any responsibility for the accident.

On Thursday, a judge froze $1.8m (£1.2m) in assets belonging to the firm in case it has to pay compensation.

The miners were told on Wednesday that it could take up to four months to rescue them.

At the time, Mr Manalich said they had reacted calmly to the news, but he pointed out that they were "going to suffer from huge challenges regarding their psychological conditions".

A special exercise and recreation programme is being set up to keep the men mentally and physically fit during their long wait. They have also been told to distinguish between day and night.

Next week doctors from the US space agency Nasa, experts in keeping astronauts alive and well on long missions in confined spaces, will arrive in Chile to assist medical officials with the miners.

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