Chile's Textbook Mine Rescue Brings Global Respect

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SAN JOSE MINE, Chile — Chile's 33 rescued miners posed with the president and were poked by doctors on Thursday, itching to reunite with families and sleep in their own beds for the first time since a cave-in nearly killed them on Aug. 5.

Relatives were organizing welcome-home parties and trying to hold off an onslaught of demands by those seeking to share in the glory of the amazing rescue that entranced people around the world and set off horn-blowing celebrations across this South American nation.

[See a photo gallery of the Chilean miner rescue.]

President Sebastian Pinera posed with the miners, most of whom were wearing bathrobes and slippers, for a group photo, and then celebrated the rescue as an achievement that will bring Chile a new level of respect around the world.

The miners and the country will never be the same, Pinera said.

"They have experienced a new life, a rebirth," he said, and so has Chile: "We aren't the same that we were before the collapse on Aug. 5. Today Chile is a country much more unified, stronger and much more respected and loved in the entire world."

The billionaire businessman-turned-politician also promised "radical" changes and tougher safety laws to improve how businesses treat their workers.

"Never again in our country will we permit people to work in conditions so unsafe and inhuman as they worked in the San Jose Mine, and in many other places in our country," said Pinera, who took office in March as Chile's first elected right-wing president in a half-century.

None of the miners are suffering from shock despite their harrowing entrapment, a reflection of the care and feeding sent through a narrow borehole by a team of hundreds during their 69 days trapped underground. Even a team of psychologists helped keep them sane.

"All of them have been subjected to high levels of stress and most of them have tolerated it in a truly exceptional way," said Dr. Jorge Montes, deputy director of the Copiapo Regional Hospital. "We don't see any problems of a psychological or a medical nature."

"We were completely surprised," added Health Minister Jaime Manalich. "We called this a real miracle, because any effort we could have made doesn't explain the health condition these people have today."

After weeks of fear, desperation and finally hope, the miners were pulled out one by one in a capsule that carried them through a narrow tube of solid rock — a dizzying 23-hour marathon of rescues.

The men, their eyes hidden behind sunglasses to protect from the sun and glare of lights, emerged to tears and embraces from relatives, and cheers and patriotic chants, as tens of millions of people watched on television around the world to see a joyful end to the longest known ordeal of men trapped underground.

All of them remain tense and spent a restless first night in the hospital, the doctors said, which is only natural given what they face as they begin their new lives.

For many, what they experience next may be incomprehensible at first.

Honors and offers of jobs and even vacations poured in from around the world for men who walked into a mine on Aug. 5 as workers doing a dirty job to support their children or buy a house. They were lifted out weeks later to find themselves international symbols of perseverance — as well as icons of patriotism at home.

Spain's Real Madrid football team invited the 33 to attend a game in their stadium. Chile's football federation said it would offer a job with its youth teams to Franklin Lobos, a former national team player who had later found himself driving a taxi to make ends meet before he was caught in the mine collapse. It also said it was organizing a "Copa 33" tournament in their honor.

The internationally popular Spanish language variety show "Sabado Gigante" announced it would dedicate a show to "The 33" and invited fans to suggest questions for them.

And a Greek mining company offered to fly each one, with a companion, for a week's vacation in the Mediterranean.

Pinera, meanwhile, vowed that those responsible for the mine collapse "will not go unpunished. Those who are responsible will have to assume their responsibility."