Latin America & Caribbean

Trapped Chile miners give video tour of confinement

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

A newly-released video appears to show that 33 miners trapped deep underground in Chile are in good spirits.

The video was taken with a camera lowered down a narrow bore-hole from the surface, some 700m (2,300ft) above.

The miners were mostly shirtless, bearded and thin but were "reasonably" healthy, Chile's health minister said.

They have been trapped since a cave-in on 5 August and were only discovered to be alive on Sunday. It could take as long as four months to rescue the men.

On Thursday, a Chilean judge froze $1.8m (£1.2m) in assets belonging to the company that operates the San Jose mine, San Esteban Mining, in case it has to pay compensation to the miners or their relatives.

The families of 28 of the miners have filed criminal negligence lawsuits against the owners and several safety inspectors from Chile's National Geology and Mine Service (Sernageomin), which allowed the mine to re-open in 2008, a year after it was shut following an accident.

The owners of San Esteban Mining, Alejandro Bohn and Marcelo Kemeny, have denied any responsibility for the accident.

"Now is not the time to take the blame nor to ask for pardon," Mr Bohn said.

Unconfirmed reports say San Esteban is on the verge of bankruptcy and cannot afford the miners' wages. The company is also thought to have neither the equipment to rescue the men nor the means to pay for it.

'Well organised'

In the grainy video that was broadcast on state television on Wednesday night, one of the miners can be seen proudly explaining how they run the shelter where have lived for the past 22 days.

"We've organised everything really well down here," he says.

"This is where we entertain ourselves, where we play cards," he adds.

Against one wall of the shelter can be seen a first aid cabinet, shelves holding unidentified bottles, mats in a corner for rest, and a set of dominos.

"We meet here every day. We plan, we have assemblies here every day so that all the decisions we make are based on the thoughts of all 33," the man says.

The other miners can be seen waving at the camera, smiling and making peace signs. Most have beards and have taken off their shirts.

"Greetings to my family! Get us out of here soon, please!" one says.

At one point, a thermometer reading 29.5C (85F) is shown.

In one segment of the 45-minute video, which was edited down to five minutes before broadcast, a mining vehicle is driven down a tunnel.

"There are a large number of professionals who are going to help in the rescue efforts from down here," another man says.

'Huge challenges'

After the video was filmed, Health Minister Jaime Manalich told reporters that the miners had lost weight and were dehydrated but were "reasonably" healthy.

Image caption The video was first shown to relatives of the trapped miners waiting on the surface

In the first 17 days of their confinement until contact was made with them, they are though to have lost between 8kg-10kg (18-22lbs) each.

The miners seem to be well-organised, says the BBC's Gideon Long in Copiapo, near the mine in northern Chile. They made emergency supplies meant for two or three days last for 17, he says.

They are now receiving supplies including rehydration drinks, some solid food and anti-depressants through one of three bore holes from the surface. Another one provides a communications link and the third is to provide ventilation.

The miners were told on Wednesday that it could take up to four months to rescue them. Mr Manalich said they reacted calmly to the news.

"But we have the impression that in the days to come they are 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 daytime and nighttime.

Psychologists are helping the families choose who will speak to the miners on a modified telephone, and instructing them to be careful about what they say to help maintain their psychological health. They have already been filtering the notes sent down to the miners.

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