COPIAPO, Chile — Each of the 33 miners trapped a half-mile underground lived on two spoonfuls of tuna, a sip of milk, a bite of crackers and a morsel of peaches. Every other day.
They were so careful in eating what was supposed to be a two-day emergency supply that when the outside world finally reached them 17 days after a mine collapse, they still had some food left.
The discipline the men have already shown will be essential during the four months it may take rescuers to dig a hole wide enough to get them out of their shelter. The first communications with the trapped miners, now able to talk through a fixed line with their rescuers above — show how determined they have been to stay alive.
"We heard them with such strength, such spirit, which is a reflection of what for them has been a gigantic fortitude and a very well organized effort," Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said Tuesday after talking with the miners at length the night before.
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The miners were plunged into darkness by the Aug. 5 collapse of the main shaft of a gold and silver mine that runs like a corkscrew for more than four miles under a barren mountain in northern Chile's Atacama desert. They gained contact with the outside world Sunday when rescuers drilled a narrow bore-hole down to their living-room-size shelter after seven failed attempts.
The miners said they have honored the same hierarchy they used on any work shift, following the directions of 54-year-old foreman Luis Urzua.
They conserved the use of their helmet lamps, their only source of light other than a handful of vehicles whose engines contaminate the air supply. They fired up a bulldozer to carve into a natural water deposit, but otherwise minimized using the vehicles.
The miners can still reach many chambers and access ramps in the lower reaches of the mine, and have used a separate area as their bathroom. But they have mostly stayed in the refuge, where they knew rescuers would try to reach them.