Nine Peruvian miners emerged into the daylight Wednesday morning after six days trapped in a collapsed mine. State television showed the miners leaving the Cabeza de Negro mine, each supported by two rescuers. They wore sunglasses to protect their eyes from the light, after spending so much time in darkness.
Miners raised a red and white Peruvian flag atop a pole to celebrate the rescue and President Ollanta Humala, who arrived Tuesday, joined relatives in welcoming the men back to the surface amid an outpouring of emotion and patriotism.
The best medicine for these fellow countrymen is to meet with their family. Mission accomplished, said Humala, who spoke briefly with each of the miners.
Trapped since Thursday, the miners aged 22 to 59 and including a father and son, had escaped injury in the cave-in and were huddled together in the same place. Rescuers had to proceed cautiously though because of the danger of further cave-ins as they dug through rock and soil to reach the miners trapped in a horizontal gallery 250 meters underground.
Rescuers were able to get close enough to supply them with oxygen, water and soup through a metal tube. But a cave-in delayed the rescue until Wednesday as miners brought in to help with the rescue shored up tunnel walls with wooden beams.
We have given them checkups and bathed them. We are pleased that they did not come in serious condition which is what we were afraid of, said physician Alberto Ramirez, the local hospital's emergency care chief. The miners also were given blood tests, chest X-rays and screened for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Cabeza de Negro is an unlicensed mine that was abandoned more than two decades ago by its owners, but continues to be exploited.
With international market prices for metals high, informal wildcat mining has been on the rise in recent years in Peru, one of the largest producers of silver, copper and gold. About 30,000 unlicensed miners are believed to work in the region around Ica, on a desert coast 300 kilometres south of Lima.
Humala called on Peru's wildcat miners to get legal so you have good working conditions.
The Peruvian miners' fate recalled a similar case in Chile that made world headlines. In August 2010, 33 miners were trapped after a cave-in in the San Jose gold and copper mine in northern Chile -- after 69 days and a spectacular rescue operation with the world watching, they were all brought out safe.