Tuesday 24 August 2010

Mining disaster survivors

After the scenes of wild celebration in Chile when it was revealed that 33 men trapped on August 5th by a tunnel collapse at the San Jose copper and gold mine are still alive, comes the sober realisation that it may take four more months to free them.

They do have access to some water, but they have been living on two spoonfuls of tuna, a sip of milk and a biscuit every 48 hours. They are in a shelter, said to be about the size of a one-bedroom flat, though some argue they have about a mile of space to move around in.

There have been other extraordinary escapes after mining accidents. Europe’s worst was at Courrieres in northern France in 1906, when nearly 1,100 were killed. Twenty days after the explosion, to general astonishment, 13 survivors emerged from the pit. They had lost all sense of time, and believed they had been trapped for only four or five days.

After China’s Tangshan earthquake of 1976, some coalminers survived for 15 days below ground without food or clean water. They too believed they had been trapped for only a few days, but their bodies told the true story. They had each lost up to three stones. For more details, see A Disastrous History of the World.

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