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Chile Turns to Retrieving Trapped Underground Miners Found Alive Yesterday - Bloomberg

Chile is preparing to start drilling a hole to retrieve 33 miners trapped in an underground mine for more than two weeks after they were found alive yesterday.
The first black and white images of some of the 33 men were shown on television news programs last night after rescuers made the first contact with them since an Aug. 5 tunnel collapse at the San Jose copper and gold mine in the Atacama region.
Authorities plan to pass food and water down the initial drill hole, keeping the miners alive until they can be retrieved through a larger hole that may be ready in three to four months, Andre Sougarret, who is heading the rescue operation, told reporters yesterday in televised remarks. They’ve survived for 17 days in a refuge 700 meters (2,300 feet) below the surface.
“The whole of Chile is crying with joy and emotion,” Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera said in televised remarks while holding up a letter from the miners yesterday. “This tells us they are alive, united and waiting to return to the sunlight and their families arms.”
Pinera said he will overhaul mining supervision in Chile, the world’s largest copper producer, after firing the head of the mining regulator on Aug. 11 over the accident. The reform may make it tougher for small-scale underground mines to continue operating, said Gustavo Lagos, a professor at the Catholic University’s mining school in Santiago.
Codelco, BHP
Rescue efforts are being led by mining experts from state- owned Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer. Melbourne- based BHP Billiton Ltd., which operates the largest copper mine in the world also in the Atacama Desert, is participating.
Most of Chile’s copper production comes from larger operators such as Codelco, BHP and Phoenix-based Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. Small and medium mines make up less than 5 percent of Chile’s copper output which exceeds 5 million metric tons a year, Lagos said.
The accident, which has filled newspaper headlines and dominated television news programs in Chile since Aug. 6, comes four months after the country was hit by a magnitude 8.8 earthquake that killed about 500 people and caused an estimated $30 billion in damages and losses.
Pinera dismissed Alejandro Vio, director of Chile’s geological and mining service known as Sernageomin, after the agency allowed the San Jose mine to reopen after being shut down by Vio’s predecessor in 2007. Pedro Simonevic, an executive at the mine’s owner Cia. Minera Esteban Primera SA, told reporters Aug. 6 the collapse is unrelated to a July 3 accident at the mine that resulted in an injury.
Authorities will carry out a “profound restructuring” of Sernageomin to improve mining safety in Chile and will punish anyone found responsible for the San Jose collapse, Pinera said Aug. 11.
“This isn’t the time to assume guilt or forgiveness,” San Esteban Chief Executive Officer Alejandro Bohn said yesterday in an interview with Television Nacional. “An investigation process is under way.”

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