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Joy and fear: Miners found alive stuck for months

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COPIAPO, Chile (AP) -- For 33 men found alive after 17 days trapped deep in a copper and gold mine, the toughest challenge now may be preserving their sanity during the months it may take to carve a tunnel big enough for them to get out.

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For their families above ground today, euphoria and and more anxiety meant for a sleepless night at the realization that the miners may be stuck until Christmas.

"We didn't sleep. We stayed up all night long hoping for more news. They said that new images would appear, so we were up hoping to see them," said one, Carolina Godoy.

Dawn broke behind a cold fog on the surface of the gold and copper mine in Chile's Atacama desert, where an intense rescue effort finally reached the miners on Sunday after weeks of missteps, new cave-ins and other false starts.

Now the plan is to carve a wider tunnel, just big enough for the men to be pulled out one by one. That equipment works much more slowly than the bore that drilled the 15-centimeter-wide shaft used to make first contact.

That narrower drill broke through 2,257 feet (688 meters) of solid rock to reach the emergency refuge where the miners have gathered. The trapped men quickly tied two notes to the end of a probe that rescuers pulled to the surface, announcing in big red letters: "All 33 of us are fine in the shelter."

"Today all of Chile is crying with excitement and joy," President Sebastian Pinera said at the mine.

And where many were beginning to give up hope, the scene above ground became a celebration Sunday night, with a barbecue for the miners' families, roving musicians, lit candles and Chilean flags making the barren landscape seem festive.

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 northeastern China were rescued after 23 days in 1983. Few other rescues have taken more than two weeks.

The miners' survival after 17 days is very unusual, but since they've made it this far, they should emerge physically fine, said Davitt McAteer, who was assistant secretary for mine safety and health at the U.S. Labor Department under President Bill Clinton.

"The health risks in a copper and gold mine are pretty small if you have air, food and water," McAteer said.

Still, he said the stress of being trapped underground for a long period of time can be significant.

"There is a psychological pattern there that we've looked at," McAteer said. But "they've established communication with the guys; there are people who can talk them through that."

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 better communicate with loved ones and rescuers. That two-way communication may be key to keeping them thinking positive.

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