COPIAPO, Chile (Reuters) - Clasping a tattered note scrawled by her husband trapped underground after a mine cave-in 18 days ago, Lilianett Ramirez is composing her first love letter in decades.
A note her 63-year-old husband Mario Gomez sent up to the surface on Sunday, promising he would see her soon, moved a whole nation still recovering from a massive February earthquake as rescuers learned that 33 miners buried alive since August 5 had survived.
Now Ramirez, 51, faces an agonizing wait of three to four months as engineers drill a new shaft to evacuate the men, who survived in a refuge deep underground drinking water from drilling machines and thanks to ventilation shafts.
Engineers began sending plastic tubes called “doves” containing glucose, hydration gels and liquid nutrients and medicine down to the miners on Monday to keep them alive. They plan to include letters as well.
“Can you imagine? After 30 years of marriage we will start sending each other love letters again,” Ramirez said, giggling despite exhaustion after camping out in a plastic tent at the mine head’s “Camp Hope” for nearly three weeks waiting for news of the miners’ fate.
“I want to tell him that I love him so much. I want to tell him that things will be different, that we will have a new life,” she said. “I will wait as long as I need to see my husband again.”
Rescue workers found the note from her husband tied around a perforation drill used to try and locate the miners some 2,300 feet (700 metres) below ground.
“I will see you soon and we will be happy ever after,” he had scribbled.
President Sebastian Pinera read Gomez’ letter aloud to Ramirez on Sunday as the nation looked on, and thousands across Chile honked horns, waved flags and spontaneously applauded the miners’ survival.
SORROW GIVES WAY TO JOY
Ecstatic relatives danced and sang around bonfires at the mouth of the mine on Sunday night to traditional Chilean music, sharing a barbecue with the rescuers.
The camp is lined with photos of the miners, and small statues of patron saints are perched on makeshift shrines for night-time vigils. The names of the miners are spelled out with rocks on the surrounding hillside.
The trapped miners are among thousands in the mineral-rich Atacama desert who venture into small, unstable mines to earn a steady paycheque. Conditions are a far cry from those enjoyed by workers at major international mining operations.
Mining Minister Laurence Golborne, who is overseeing the rescue effort, says sending letters to those stuck underground is vital to keep morale up during the coming months of the rescue.
Housewife Luisa Segovia, 49, is writing to her brother.
“There are so many things I want to tell him,” she said, wearing a black-and-white photo of him pinned to her blouse.
“I want to tell him that we are waiting for him with our arms wide open.”
Some, however, are in for an earful.
Alberto Avalos, a 42-year-old farmer, wants to give his nephew a piece of his mind.
“I honestly want to ask him what the hell was he doing down the mine,” Avalos said. “I want to curse him out for keeping us so worried!”
Editing by Simon Gardner and Cynthia Osterman
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