* Rescuers will descend shaft to help miners
* Men trapped for record 68 days after cave-in
* Men will be hoisted out one at a time
(Adds name of first miner to be hoisted)
By Cesar Illiano and Terry Wade
COPIAPO, Chile (Reuters) - The first of 33 trapped
miners will be pulled to safety in a capsule barely wider than
a man's shoulders Tuesday night as a two-month ordeal deep
inside a Chilean mine draws to an end.
The men have spent 68 days in the hot, humid bowels of a
gold and copper mine in Chile's northern Atacama desert after
an Aug. 5 collapse. They now face a claustrophobic journey to
the surface in the specially-made steel cages, equipped with
oxygen masks and escape hatches in case they get stuck.
With Chileans anxiously following the rescue on television,
President Sebastian Pinera asked for all churches in the South
American nation to ring their bells in celebration when the
first miner emerges from the shaft.
Nervous wives, children, parents and friends waited on an
arid, rocky hillside around 2,050 feet above the
miners, and rescue teams planned to start hoisting the men to
the surface from around 8 p.m. (2300 GMT).
Florencio Avalos, 31, will be the first miner to be
rescued, his mother told Reuters, citing officials. Married
with two children, Florencio has been trapped along with his
brother, 29-year-old Renan.
"Right now I'm calm, though still very anxious. I hope my
nerves don't betray me when the rescue starts," said Jessica
Salgado, whose husband Alex is among the miners.
"The first thing I'm going to do is hug him hard, tell him
how much I love him and how I've missed him all this time."
Rescuers Monday successfully tested a capsule,
dubbed "Phoenix" after the mythical bird that rose from the
ashes, after reinforcing part of the narrow escape shaft with
metal casing to prevent rocks falling and blocking the exit.
Engineers said the final stage of the rescue still had its
risks but that the capsule was handling well in the shaft, and
they expected a smooth extraction. The miners will be hoisted
out one at a time in a two-day operation.
Rescuers originally found the men, miraculously all alive,
17 days after the mine's collapse with a bore hole the width of
grapefruit. It then served as an umbilical cord used to pass
hydration gels, water and food, as well as letters from their
families and soccer videos to keep their spirits up.
The men have set a world record for the length of time
workers have survived underground after a mining accident, and
have been doing exercises to keep their weight down for their
Medics say some of the men are psychologically fragile and
may struggle with stress for a long time after their rescue.
President Pinera, who ordered an overhaul of Chile's mine
safety regulations after the accident, toured the rescue
operation on Tuesday, meeting the miners' families.
"When the first miner emerges safe and sound, which I
expect will happen later today, I hope all the bells of all the
churches of Chile ring out forcefully, with joy and hope," the
white-haired leader said. "Faith has moved mountains."
Every Chilean TV station was saturated with coverage of the
"Everyone is following the rescue step by step. We are a
Catholic country and we see this as a real miracle," said
Maritza Gonzalez, a 50-year-old housewife in capital city
Many relatives held vigils over the past two months at a
tent settlement dubbed "Camp Hope" above the mine, and more
people joined as the climax neared.
Noemi Donoso, whose 43-year-old son-in-law Samuel Avalos is
among the trapped, sat praying in a tent with four family
members, their hands joined together to form a circle, singing
hymns and chanting "hallelujah" and "glory to God."
Her daughter had just left to have her hair done in a
makeshift hairdressers in another of the camp's tents.
"She went to the salon to get fixed up so she can look
pretty when she receives him," Donoso said, as excited school
children ran around the camp with face paint on.
Once the evacuations start, it will take 48 hours to
extract the men. Rescuers will first be lowered to help the
miners prepare to return to the surface.
Each man's journey through solid rock to safety should take
about 12 to 15 minutes. They will have their eyes closed and
will be given dark glasses to avoid damaging their eyesight
after spending so long in a dimly lit tunnel. They will then be
under observation at a nearby hospital for two days.
One of the 33 miners is a Bolivian national and Bolivian
President Evo Morales was expected to visit the mine in the
early morning hours of Wednesday.
(Additional reporting by Antonio de la Jara, Juana Casas and
Brad Haynes in Santiago; Writing by Simon Gardner and Hugh
Bronstein; Editing by Anthony Boadle)
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