Latin America & Caribbean

Trapped Chile miners to be allowed cigarettes

Some of the trapped miners in a screen grab, 1 September 2010
Image caption Some of the miners were desperate for a smoke

Miners trapped deep underground in Chile for more than a month have been given permission to smoke.

Health officials had previously refused to send the men cigarettes, saying smoking would pollute the air in the refuge where they are sheltering.

But rescuers have now improved the ventilation system so they can pump fresh air in from the surface.

The 33 miners will be sent two packets of cigarettes a day through a supply tube to share between them.

When they were found alive on 22 August after 17 days underground some of the miners were desperate for a smoke.

But until now they have had to make do with nicotine patches and gum, sent to them through a supply tube.

Now the smokers among them will be able to light up, at least occasionally, while they wait to be rescued.

Health and safety

"We are not going to give a pack of cigarettes, but rather a limited amount," a member of the rescue team, Dr Jorge Diaz, told the AFP news agency.

"Regardless of how good the ventilation system is now, they are still trapped, and ventilation cannot be optimal."

Frequent requests by some of the miners for alcohol have so far been refused.

Engineers are drilling two separate rescue shafts to try to reach the miners trapped at 700m (2,300ft) below the ground.

The work is expected to take at least two months.

Each drill has so far penetrated around 260m, but both have broken down in recent days and though one is now back in action, engineers say they might not be able to repair the other.

A third, more powerful, drill is being assembled at the mine head, but it is not due to begin working for another 10 days.

The miners have become national heroes in Chile since a drill probe reached the underground shelter where they had survived for 17 days without contact with the outside world.

Many had given them up for lost, but they had kept alive underground by rationing emergency food supplies.

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