The Conversation: Electricity, Running Water and Life Underground for Trapped Chilean Miners

ABC's Jeffrey Kofman on the latest comforts for the trapped Chilean miners.

ByABC News
September 13, 2010, 12:07 PM

Sept. 13, 2010— -- On Day 39, huge advances have been made in improving the quality of life for 33 Chilean miners trapped a half-mile underground.

In the last few days, rescue workers have been able to provide the trapped miners with electricity, fresh water and fresh air through one of the three 6-inch shafts that connect the miners with life on the surface.

In today's conversation, ABC News' Jeffrey Kofman gives us a tour of Camp Esperanza -- the site where families of the trapped miners have been staying for the past month.

Kofman gives us a look into what is being done to keep the miners healthy and prepare them for what could be several more weeks or even months underground.

Walking past shrines and posters that decorate the campsite, Kofman says, "It is incredible. What's more staggering is that they have at least two more months to wait. They have broken records already. Every day they create a new record. No one has ever survived underground this long."

The miners range in age from 19 to 63. On Aug. 22, rescuers were able to make contact with the trapped miners through a note the men sent up attached to a drill head. Since then, the Chilean government has organized an international effort to rescue the trapped men.

Of paramount importance has been keeping the men healthy mentally and physically, and providing them with things essential for their survival.

"One of the most important things in isolation is that they have a regular day/night rhythm," says Kofman. "If you don't do that, societal structures, very quickly fall apart. They are actually [with UV lights], imposing a day/night cycle."

One of the most interesting things sent down is a tiny television that allows them to watch soccer games and have some entertainment. They can also now communicate with family members above ground on a regular basis.

In addition to electricity, the miners now have fresh air, which is important in keeping them as comfortable as possible in the extreme conditions underground.

"They are oppressively hot and humid. About 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity," Kofman says. "Now they're pumping fresh air down there and that should alleviate some of the humidity and should make breathing a little bit easier for them. But make no mistake it is oppressive down there."

Exercise and dietary concerns are also important as the miners are kept on a strict diet and have a strict work schedule enforced to keep their muscles from atrophying. It will also help in preparing the men to be lifted up from the mine.

"One of the things that they have to be wary of is the hole that two of these machines is drilling is 26 inches wide and there will be a cage that has to fit in there," Kofman says. "They have to have a waist of less than 35 inches to squeeze in there. They have to both worry about their health and worry about the size of their girth if they're going to get them out."

Rescuers estimate it will take them approximately three hours to raise each man to the surface, meaning it will take at least four days to lift them all out.

"This is an incredibly complex operation," says Kofman. "There is no precedent for this. It is like some strange psychological and physical experiment that nature has imposed on these men. And we're going to learn a huge amount about what the human mind and the human body can tolerate."

We hope you'll watch today's Conversation to learn more about how the miners are coping underground and the rescue operation.

Click here to watch more from the Conversation series.

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