Joyous families end long vigil at Chile's "Camp Hope"

Thu Oct 14, 2010 4:43pm GMT
 

* Two-months of waiting and praying end with rescue

* Family, friends, president visit miners in hospital

By Terry Wade

COPIAPO, Chile, Oct 14 (Reuters) - Ending what many felt was a spiritual mission, the families of Chile's 33 rescued miners on Thursday packed up the tents they have lived in for the past two months and prepared for life outside the intense fellowship of "Camp Hope".

They descended on the barren land around the San Jose mine after it collapsed on Aug. 5, scared that all the miners were dead but refusing to give up. Many of the relatives are deeply religious and prayed almost around the clock for their men.

Now that the extraordinary rescue operation is over, they began gathering up their clothes, sheets, pots and plates on Thursday and headed off, leaving behind piles of trash and ragged signs with photos of the miners and messages of support.

Alfonso Avalos, whose only two sons Florencio and Renan were among those trapped for 69 days, sipped tea around a smoldering campfire not far from the rescue shaft where the men emerged in joyous scenes on Wednesday. [ID:nN14104048]

He was planning to drop by the hospital in the town of Copiapo later on Thursday to pick up his sons, and then make the long trek home to the south of Chile with nearly three dozen family members.

"We came here to get them and we want to go back home all together," he said.

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Daniel Marin, a family friend, sat quietly on a stool, writing a letter to all the miners to express his solidarity and his faith in God.

He was in bittersweet mood -- joyful about the "miracle" he was part of, but reluctant to leave a place he feels is now imbued with a sense of the divine.

"I think I've fulfilled my mission here so it's time for me to go," Marin said.

Day and night over the past 10 weeks, religious vigils brought families together with the engineers and rescue teams working flat out to bring the miners to safety.

When search crews first found the miners were alive 17 days after the mine's collapse, the tent city quickly swelled in size. It was dubbed "Camp Hope" and some relatives say they now want the bleak, inhospitable terrain turned into a sanctuary.

Most people at the camp gave President Sebastian Pinera high marks for leading the rescue effort, which will likely buoy support for him at home and burnish Chile's image abroad as the most well-organized country in Latin America.

Ariel Ticona, one of the last miners to come out of the ground on Wednesday night, told Pinera: "This is a great country and together we can do great things."

But Flor Alcayaga, whose nephew Victor Zamora was one of those rescued, said the government might have taken longer to find and rescue the miners if it hadn't been for the presence of so many friends and relatives.

"The families camped out here put pressure on Pinera to start digging," she said on Wednesday night, her head wrapped in a scarf as she and relatives huddled around a TV set to watch dramatic live images from deep below the ground of the miners climbing into the special capsule that lifted them to safety. (Editing by Hugh Bronstein and Kieran Murray)

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