SANTIAGO, Chile — Chile's president was euphoric as he waved the note, written deep inside a collapsed mine, that his country waited 17 agonizing days to see: "All 33 of us are fine in the shelter," one of the trapped miners wrote in red letters.
Authorities and relatives of the miners hugged, climbed a nearby hill, planted 33 flags and sang the national anthem Sunday after a probe sent some 2,257 feet deep into the mine came back with the note. "Today all of Chile is crying with excitement and joy," President Sebastian Pinera said.
The miners' ordeal may have just begun: Rescuers say it could take four months — until around Christmas — to get them out.
The men already have been trapped underground longer than all but a few miners rescued in recent history. Last year, three miners survived 25 days trapped in a flooded mine in southern China, and two miners in northeast China were rescued after 23 days in 1983. Few other rescues have taken more than two weeks.
For the moment, however, news that the men even survived a tunnel collapse on Aug. 5 outshines all other details.
A video camera lowered down the probe shaft showed some of the miners, stripped to the waist in the underground heat, waving happily. But they weren't able to establish audio contact, Pinera told reporters at the scene.
"I saw eight or nine of them. They were waving their hands. They got close to the camera and we could see their eyes, their joy," Pinera said.
Word of the miners' survival was a rush of good news in a country still rebuilding from a magnitude-8.8 earthquake Feb. 27 and its resulting tsunami, which together killed at least 521 people and left 200,000 homeless.
"I am OK thanks to God. I hope to get out soon," wrote one of the trapped miners, Mario Gomez. "Patience and faith. God is great and the help of my God is going to make it possible to leave this mine alive."
The opening that rescuers dug to the miners is not wide enough to haul them out. Rescue equipment brought from outside the country was being assembled Sunday to dig a tunnel 27 inches in diameter through which the miners will eventually be brought to the surface.
The hole already drilled will be used to send down small capsules containing food, water and oxygen if necessary, and sound and video equipment so the miners can communicate better with loved ones and rescuers.