Friday, October 15, 2010

Los 33


COPIAPO, Chile - The Chilean miners began their unfamiliar new lives as national heroes Thursday and got a taste of what awaits them outside the hospital doors - a swarm of reporters, TV producers, publicity agents and even soccer teams all desperate for a piece of their story. A day after their epic rescue, still wearing the oddly fashionable sunglasses that protected them from the bright light when they were hoisted from 2,000 feet underground, the men posed in hospital bathrobes for a group photo with President Sebastian Pinera. Unity helped the men, known as "los 33," survive for 69 days underground, including more than two weeks when no one knew whether they were alive. But the moment they walk out the hospital doors, they'll go beyond the reach of a government operation that has cared for, fed and protected them in a carefully coordinated campaign to ensure each of them would leave in top condition. The men certainly have an extraordinary story to tell. No one before them had been trapped so long and survived. Pinera also was defining face of the rescue, embracing Luis Urzua when he climbed out of the pod to become the 33rd miner out, then leading a joyous crowd in the national anthem. "They have experienced a new life, a rebirth," he said, and so has Chile: "We aren't the same that we were before the collapse on Aug. 5. Today Chile is a country much more unified, stronger and much more respected and loved in the entire world." The billionaire businessman-turned-politician also promised "radical" changes and tougher safety laws to improve how businesses treat their workers. "Never again in our country will we permit people to work in conditions so unsafe and inhuman as they worked in the San Jose mine, and in many other places in our country," said Pinera, who took office in March as Chile's first elected right-wing president in a half-century. - MICHAEL WARREN

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