Image: Rescued miner Richard Villarroel
Carlos Espinoza  /  AP
Rescued miner Richard Villarroel stands next to an altar of religious statues as he visits to the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile, on Oct. 16. Villarroel is one of the 33 miners who were trapped inside the gold and copper mine for 69 days before being rescued on Oct. 13.
updated 10/17/2010 10:26:34 AM ET 2010-10-17T14:26:34

Chile's 33 rescued miners got heroes' welcomes, still wearing the sunglasses that make them look like rock stars, as they pushed through swarms of news media eager to broadcast details of their harrowing experience trapped underground.

The next day, they woke up in humble homes to the reality of family strife and possible unemployment.

Most of the miners headed home over the weekend from the hospital where they were taken after being pulled through a narrow, 2,040-foot (622-meter) deep shaft to the surface Wednesday in a stunning rescue broadcast live around the world.

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They are getting substantial offers of money for their story, but made a pact to say little about their 69-day ordeal while negotiating movie and book rights. They even hired an accountant while underground to track and share the proceeds, their friend, shift foreman Pablo Ramirez, told The Associated Press.

"All that will come out later. As a group, we're thinking about putting out a book, and that will tell everything," said Ariel Ticona, whose baby Esperanza — Spanish for hope — was born during his entrapment, when asked by the AP for details of his survival.

Story: Miners hire accountant and keep mum for now

Riches may come, but for now, many face an uncomfortable present: Most live in improvised homes in marginal neighborhoods. Some have strained relationships with the families who held vigil, praying for their survival. All face a search for work since the mine that employed them has filed for bankruptcy.

Seven of the miners held a news conference to plead for job training and government benefits. They also pleaded for privacy, citing the media's treatment of fellow miners Johnny Barrios and Claudio Yanez.

Barrios' wife and lover, who live a block away from one another, both arrived at the mine following the Aug. 5 collapsed that trapped them, launching a high-profile soap opera.

Yanez's strained relationships also were on display when the media waited outside his mother's house, where his family had prepared a welcome-home party, and he didn't show up. He went instead to the home of the mother of his two children, a woman he proposed marriage to while underground. Yanez's sister, cameras in tow, later threw a rock at the woman's house, and yelled that he can forget having his family to support him.

Other miners returned to lives of poverty in the hardscrabble neighborhoods that climb the hills around Copiapo, the gritty capital of Chile's northern Atacama region.

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Carlos Mamani, the only Bolivian in the group, lives in a small green wooden house on an unpaved road in Padre Negro.

On a clear night, the glittering street lights of Copiapo stretch out like a beautiful carpet below mountains that hold the promise of copper and gold.

But Padre Negro's 38 houses lack access to sewers and running water. Mamani and his neighbors — mainly Bolivians and Peruvians — must walk for blocks to two public taps to get water and then carry it back up the hill.

"This area is dangerous at night. Drugs are sold here and there is theft. I've lived here for a while and I still have to be careful to avoid problems," said one of Mamani's neighbors, Jose Vadillo, a 15-year-old Bolivian, to The Associated Press.

Barrios and Yanez live near Mamani, but closer to central Copiapo in a neighborhood where gangs mark their territory with old sneakers hanging from electricity poles.

Other miners live in Tiltil Bajo, a neighborhood of wood and tin houses that lack sewage connections. There, relatives of Pedro Cortez and Carlos Bugueno had no money to buy balloons, so they blew air into white plastic bags and hung them along Corona del Inca street to welcome them home. They had a huge party anyway — Bugueno's small house is shared by 17 people, including his brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews.

Chile's government has promised to look out for the rescued miners, and each has received about $12,000 in donations, but their futures remain uncertain.

"Three months from now, what will I be doing? Selling candy on the beach? Wondering what the government has done for us? Nothing," said Edison Pena. "I'm very afraid and I would like for things to change."

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The San Jose mine where the men worked is inoperable following the cave-in. At month's end, a judicial arbiter will decide on its bankruptcy. Pinera and his appointees have already said it must remain closed as a safety hazard, with 700,000 tons of fallen rock in danger of collapsing still further into the bottom of the mine.

Some of the men have new opportunities outside mining.

Franklin Lobos, a former professional soccer player who drove trucks at the San Jose mine, is wanted by the world soccer body FIFA to give motivational talks, Chilean soccer director Harold Mayne-Nicholls said.

And Bolivian President Evo Morales has offered Mamani a job in his government.

Others feel their future remains underground.

Copiapo's residents mainly work in mines or vineyards. But locals say the vineyards demand special training the miners don't have.

Omar Reygadas said he will keep on working in mines.

"It is my work. It is my way of earning pesos," he said. "I am a mole, and I'm happy when I am underground."


Associated Press Writer Michael Warren and APTN cameraman Mauricio Cuevas contributed to this story.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Freed miners recount ordeal on talk show

  1. Transcript of: Freed miners recount ordeal on talk show

    JENNA WOLFE, co-host: This morning, new details of life underground for those rescued Chilean miners. Several of the men appeared on a talk show to describe their two-month ordeal, and NBC 's Natalie Morales was invited to join them on the show to talk about the global impact of the trapped miners. Natalie , good morning.

    NATALIE MORALES reporting: Good morning to you, Jenna .

    WOLFE: Tell me a little bit about the miners and their spirits and their health. How they doing, how they feeling since coming out?

    MORALES: Yeah, they seemed a little subdued, as you'd imagine. They were pretty emotional about their experience at certain points, you know, although they have made a pact not to talk about the darkest details, and they kept reminding the host and the viewers that they have that pact and they're sticking with it, you -- we did start to hear a lot of the details of the horror they went through over the last few months. And so I think it was probably one of the most revealing interviews to date. And all of them are doing fairly well in terms of their health. Mario Gomez , the oldest one, was on the panel, and he said that he's doing fine. He had problems with -- respiratory problems while he was down in the mine, said he's fine. One of the young men on the panel also had some teeth pulled out. But physically they're doing great. I think it's the emotional part. You can tell they're coping with a lot to get through this. They went through probably the hardest experience that anybody could possibly imagine, and I think they've all said that they really still can't sleep, even being home in their own beds, the thing that they said that they wanted to do most. They say that they were having a really hard time adjusting.

    WOLFE: I'm sure. What can you tell us about some of opportunities that have since come their way, some of the lucrative deals that we've heard so much about in the last couple days?

    MORALES: Well, they, of course, are getting offers from everywhere to talk, and as I said they made this pact that whatever they do, whatever money they make from appearances, they will share amongst the 33. But they have offers to play with Real Madrid , man -- or to go see soccer matches of Real Madrid , Manchester United . They have luxury vacation plans, there are, you know, talks of book deals and movie deals. So they're getting lots of offers. But you know, Jenna , Going back to what they revealed, you know, just to let you know some of the things that they were -- they were telling us was that one of the guys said probably the darkest moments for him was when he saw himself

    dying. He said......'I saw death.' And, you know, that really kind of said it all. And they also said that the videos that they submitted to their families from below ground, that they actually didn't show a lot of what they were feeling, essentially, you know, saying that they put on a good front so that their families wouldn't worry.

    WOLFE: All right. Well, Natalie Morales , we thank you so much for your time. We're going to see much more of that interview tomorrow morning on TODAY.


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