Latin America & Caribbean

Conversation of hope for miners' families

Luciano Reygadas
Image caption Luciano Reygadas was given the chance to speak to his father, Omar, on Sunday

The son of Omar Reygadas points to the names of each of Omar's children and grandchildren.

The names are written on the side of a white tent at the entrance of Chile's San Jose mine.

The Reygadas family now lives here in a tent village called Camp Hope.

At night, when the Atacama desert gets cold, they sit round a fire.

They show a picture of Omar. He is 56 years old, with thick black eyebrows and grey hair.

Omar's nine-year-old grandson, Nicolas, sticks the legs onto an orange plasticine miner.

He saw his grandfather appear in the video sent up by the miners several days ago.

"I was ecstatic. I cried with joy," he says.

'Praying for him'

On Sunday afternoon, the miners were allowed to make their first phone calls to their families.

From 700m beneath the earth, Omar asked to speak to his youngest son Luciano.

He is seen as the most level-headed member of the family.

Image caption Families say they will camp out until the miners are rescued

The two were allowed just one minute to talk.

"I told him about us - that we're well, that we're all supporting him, praying for him," says Luciano Reygadas, adding that Omar answered in the same vein.

He said that all of the miners are calm, well, and healthy.

"During our call there was a person standing at the door - they alerted us when our time was up.

"Maybe I ran over a little bit - but you have to make the most of it after so many days," he said.

Along the desert road leading to the mine, family and friends of the miners walk in a religious procession.

They carry pictures of Catholic saints.

By the side of the road, there are shrines to each of men trapped beneath the earth.

On the hillside, 33 flags have been planted - one for each of the miners.

On the other side of the hill, workers in orange uniforms pull up a metal tube from a narrow supply line which connects the miners to the rest of the world.

Chile's Mining Minister Laurence Golborne decides to open the tube himself, packing it with phone cables and sending it back down to the miners.

New President Sebastian Pinera has ordered his ministers to make the miners' rescue their priority.

'Don't go back'

This is the first right-wing government in Chile since General Augusto Pinochet stepped down 20 years ago.

A government of wealthy businessmen wants to show that it can connect with working-class miners.

Image caption It could take three to four months to get the miners out

So Mr Golborne and other ministers patrol the mine energetically in matching bright red windbreaker jackets and warning against hopes of an early rescue.

He says that it may take three to four months to get the miners out.

"Technically speaking this process is something that nobody has done - I think in the world," the minister says.

"To try to hit a box of 50 sq m from 700m on top of the hill over a solid rock is something very hard to do.

"And I think our technicians, our engineers have done a terrific job with this."

In Camp Hope, the young children and grandchildren of the miners sit around a table.

Maria is eight years old. Her grandfather Mario Gomez is the oldest of the trapped men. What will she tell him when he gets out?

"I'll tell him that I love him a lot, but I'll also tell him that he shouldn't go back down the mine - because it could fall down on him again," she says.

For now, the families say they trust the government to reach the miners.

They promise to camp in their tents outside the mine until the end.

In the desert rock beneath them, 33 men wait for their rescue.