Trapped Chile miners receive food and water

Pictures appearing to show a miner underground have emerged

Rescue workers in Chile say they have sent the first supplies of water and food to 33 miners who have been trapped underground for 17 days.

Capsules containing the supplies were sent down a tube, which is the miners' only lifeline. Engineers are also trying to open lines of communication.

Rescuers made contact with the miners on Sunday after lowering a probe some 700m (2,300ft) beneath the surface.

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The work necessary to extract the men is expected to take up to four months.

A specialised drill is on its way to the San Jose copper and gold mine, near the city of Copiapo, to dig a new shaft wide enough to pull the miners to safety.

'Free of anguish'

People across Chile celebrated on Sunday night, waving flags and sounding the horns of their cars, when news emerged that the trapped miners had been contacted.

The announcement that they were all still alive was made at the mine on Sunday by Chilean President Sebastian Pinera.

Chilean policemen stand near drill machines outside the San Jose copper mine (23 August 2010) The head of the rescue operation said engineers would drill two more shafts

Surrounded by relatives of the miners, Mr Pinera held up a note from the miners saying: "All 33 of us are fine in the shelter."

Video footage was later broadcast of the men waving at a camera inserted into their refuge though a 15cm (6-inch) borehole.

"Many of them approached the camera and put their faces right up against it, like children, and we could see happiness and hope in their eyes," Mr Pinera said.

The miners have been trapped since 5 August, when the main access tunnel collapsed. They are thought to be located 4.5 miles (7km) inside the mine, in a 50 sq m shelter that contains two long wooden benches.

Start Quote

They need to understand what we know up here at the surface, that it will take many weeks for them to reach the light”

End Quote Jaime Manalich Chilean Health Minister

Tanks of water inside, along with water from drilling machines and ventilation shafts helped the men to survive, but they had very limited food supplies.

"The wait is very different now," Elias Barros, whose brother is among those trapped, told the Reuters news agency. "It is a wait free of anguish. This isn't over, but we are much more hopeful it will end happily."

'Psychological situation'

Engineers worked through Sunday night to reinforce the borehole by coating it with a metallic gel to decrease the risk of further rock falls and make it easier to send material down in blue plastic capsules nicknamed "palomas", or doves.

The priority was to get capsules containing water and food in the form of high-energy glucose gel to the miners, as well as a medicine to reduce the acidity in their stomachs. Questionnaires to determine their condition were also sent.

Small microphones will later be lowered on wires to allow the miners to speak with their families. The communications equipment is expected to begin working within hours and officials are working out a schedule.

Map of Chile

The head of the rescue operation, Andre Sougarret, said engineers would drill two more shafts - a narrow one to ensure ventilation and communication with the miners in the coming months, and a wider one to extract the men via a pulley.

Mr Sougarret said it would take about 120 days to drill the second shaft.

A team of doctors and psychiatrists have meanwhile arrived at the mine to help monitor their physical and mental condition during the long wait.

"We need to urgently establish what psychological situation they are in. They need to understand what we know up here at the surface, that it will take many weeks for them to reach the light," Health Minister Jaime Manalich said.

"There has to be leadership established, and to support them and prepare them for what's coming, which is no small thing," he added.

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