Latin America & Caribbean

Cauldron of emotions as miners are rescued

A woman reacts as she watches the televised rescue
Image caption Emotions in Camp Hope have been high during the miners' release

The mood at Camp Hope changed in the space of an hour.

Where there was anguish, there is now a pervading sense of relief.

Faces which had been etched with worry are suddenly relaxed.

Mothers, brothers and sisters speak of a miracle, but they do so in hushed tones, almost afraid that if they celebrate too exuberantly they could jinx the rescue of the men who are still to come.

All give thanks - to the rescue teams, their families, God, the patron saint of miners.

Most say they lack the words to describe their emotions at seeing the rescue unfold safely, miner after miner being pulled up to the surface.

The women compare it to giving birth, the pain of labour soon forgotten over the joy of being united with a child.

The men are more monosyllabic, but their eyes are moist nonetheless. Happy, relieved, grateful are the words most used to describe their reaction so far.

From fear to joy

Elizabeth Segovia has lost her voice. She says that by the time her brother Dario gets out - he is number 20 on the list - she will probably have to resort to sign language.

Image caption Elizabeth Segovia says she has lost her voice with the emotion of awaiting her brother

But she doesn't need words, her face says it all. It has lit up and she has regained the spring in her step.

Only hours before, she had been staring blankly at the winch which she hopes will lift her brother Dario to safety.

Her expression had been in stark contrast with the hat in bright Chilean colours perched on her head.

Now the two are in tune again.

There was an almost unbearable tension in the run-up to the rescue. The preceding days had been marked by moments of joy.

The moment when the drill reached the men on Saturday had been greeted by many with tears, but they were tears of joy, they insisted.

And there was a party atmosphere when the Schramm T-130, the drill which bored through to the men, left the mine, its mission completed.

But Tuesday was different. Despite the presence of hundreds and hundreds of journalists, the camp was quiet, subdued.

The relatives of the men spoke little, if at all.

'Need to be alone'

Zulemy Barrios, the sister of Yonny Barrios, walked up to the hill where the families have planted 33 flags in honour of each of the men trapped.

"I just needed to be alone. I needed to get away from everyone, even my daughter, who has been my rock of support," she said.

Zulemy lit a candle by her brother's flag, and prayed for his safe return to the surface.

When the women from the Red Cross called the families over for lunch at the soup kitchen, hardly any of them went.

Image caption From the silence and darkness, the miners emerged into a blaze of attention

And of those who did go, many just wanted to kill time; few could bring themselves to eat.

By the afternoon, preparations started to gear up, helicopters circled, and President Sebastian Pinera arrived.

The relatives started taking turns getting ready at the shower block the government has installed at one edge of the dusty camp.

They put on the clothes they had kept for this special day, but they looked anything but happy.

In mid-afternoon the relatives were handed a provisional list with the order that the men would be lifted to safety.

For a while, that eased the suspense a little bit. Members from different families compared notes.

"When is your man coming out?" was the question they asked of each other.

Then, suddenly, time - which seemed to have stopped for hours - seemed to accelerate.

The capsule was installed, Mining Minister Laurence Golborne spoke, and the first trial run began.

There was a hitch, the capsule door got stuck, and had to be repaired. But soon the rescue resumed, and the families huddled around the four TV screens installed around the camp.

There were cheers as the first rescuer, Manuel Gonzalez, was strapped into his harness, and again, as the cable started to lower him down.

Erasing worry

And then, the first of a series of heart-stopping moments. Live pictures from inside the mine showed the capsule slowly appearing in the tunnel.

No-one had expected to be able to see pictures from inside the mine, so the surprise was perfect.

Zulemy Barrios was lost for words, not only had the capsule arrived safely, but she could see her brother Yonny going to meet it.

Yonny is number 21 in the list, so there is still some wait ahead for Zulemy, but she says seeing him and the capsule has taken a huge weight off her.

And that is a thought echoed time and time again by the relatives in the camp, with every miner who steps into the narrow capsule and steps out some 15 minutes later to be reunited with his family, a piece of the worry that has coloured their lives for the past 69 days falls off them.