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Chilean Bay Area Residents Celebrate Mine Rescue

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SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS/BCN) — The Bay Area’s Chilean community breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday as 33 miners were rescued after being trapped underground for more than two months, the consul general at the Chilean Consulate in San Francisco said.

The miners were trapped more than 2,000 feet underground when a cave-in sealed off a gold and copper mine in Chile on Aug. 5. The last of the miners was rescued just before 6 p.m.

KCBS’ Jane McMillan interviews Chilean Consul General Rolando Ortega

“This is a very happy end,” Rolando Ortega, consul general at the Chilean Consulate in San Francisco, said. “Normally that kind of thing finishes not in a good way, but this is different.”

About 3,000 Chileans live in the Bay Area, and 5,000 live in Northern California. Many called the consulate looking for updates on the miners after the story made international headlines in August, Ortega said.

Fernando Torres, the publicity coordinator for La Pena, a Hispanic community center in Berkeley, said workers there have been “glued to the TV” all day watching the rescue.

Torres said he is from Chile’s Atacama region, where the miners were trapped, and said he and other Chileans have been “really very cheerful and happy” about the rescue.

A rescue capsule dug down to where the miners were trapped and has been taking them out one by one. Torres was wowed by the “amazing technology” used to rescue the miners, given the conditions of the area.

“Down there it’s very hard,” he said. “Very arid, like a desert.”

Torres said miners are a big part of the population in the Atacama region.

“I would say 50 percent of people there are miners or have some experience,” he said.

He said there is a road that goes through the region, Camino del Inca, where, “It is said that the Incas, when they conquered the north of Chile, they did a lot of mining for gold.”

Ortega from the Chilean Consulate in San Francisco thanked everyone who has been “following this and expressing their support.” He also thanked the U.S. government for the “strong support they have provided to the Chilean government” during the past couple of months.

“This is something that has been done thanks to the support and assistance of very many people,” he said of the rescue.

For more coverage of the mine rescue, visit CBSNews.com

(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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