Thursday, October 14, 2010

Congratulations, Chile

I congratulate the Chileans for their marvelous accomplishment of rescuing the 33 miners who were trapped for 70 days in the San Jose gold and copper mine in the Atacama Desert. The miners endured the longest known period of being trapped underground in world history.

The mine partially collapsed on August 5, confining the miners nearly half a mile below the surface. For the first 17 days, no one on the surface knew whether the 33 men were alive until a probe broke through to the safety chamber in which the miners were at the time of the collapse – to the surprise and relief of the world. Shift supervisor Luis Urzua, who received the honor he had requested of being the last miner rescued, is credited with organizing the men and looking after all their needs in the dark mine with little food or other provisions. Once communication was established with the surface, among the first items the miners requested from the surface were articles of Christian devotion.

The Chilean mine collapse reminded me of the flooding of the Quecreek coal mine in Pennsylvania in 2002, from which all of the trapped miners survived because of an unprecedented successful rescue operation after they had managed to find a small area of higher ground to escape drowning. Governor Mark Schweiker coordinated the state’s effort to save the miners, backed by United States President George W. Bush, who provided critical federal support. I am proud that a Pennsylvania driller was among the Americans who assisted in the Chilean rescue, an effort for which much state-of-the-art technology was necessary. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera not only backed his state’s effort to rescue the miners, but this extraordinary leader had encouraged the effort to continue try to locate the miners when others doubted they were still alive. Like Schweiker, he kept the public informed of the advancement of the operation.

As in the case of the Pennsylvania mine disaster, it is hoped that much will be learned about mine safety and rescue from the Chilean disaster. Mining is of great economic significance in Chile, as it is in Pennsylvania, which made this rescue critically important. Copper, for example, is among Chile’s main exports to the United States, along with fruit and wine. Trade between the U.S. and Chile, one of the most prosperous Latin American states, increased dramatically after the free trade agreement negotiated by the Bush Administration was implemented in 2004.

One thing, of course, that has already been learned from the Chilean miners is the human ability to endure such a difficult confinement for such a long period. How they survived their ordeal will be studied, and the efforts of the rescuers from the surface to supply the miners with all of their provisions will be a model. Also worthy of praise are the brave Chilean rescue workers who had to take the unusual step of being lowered into the mine chamber in which the 33 miners were trapped.

Chile suffered a major earthquake earlier this year. The successful mine rescue is a sharp contrast to that deadly disaster. It also punctuates the celebration of Chile’s Bicentennial, which occurred during the miner’s confinement. Chileans are right to proud of themselves for accomplishing something no one else ever has.

Thank God for this successful rescue. I pray the miners make a full recovery. Viva, Chile!

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