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Relatives describe emotions as they awaited news of Chilean miners

By Karl Penhaul, CNN
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Remembering the mine collapse
  • Wives, fathers and daughters recall moment they learned of the accident
  • The 33 Chilean miners have been trapped underground for a month after an earthquake
  • "Here in Chile they've always treated our miners like animals," miner's daughter says
  • "My Claudio can't leave me like this. Claudio has to be alive," Claudio Yanez's wife recalls

Copiapo, Chile (CNN) -- One month ago, the San Jose copper and gold mine in Chile caved in, trapping 33 miners far underground. For the next 17 days, their families had no idea whether they were alive or dead.

Here in their words, some of the wives, fathers and daughters think back to the first moments after learning of the accident and their efforts to keep hope alive.

Lila Ramirez, wife of Mario Gomez: "I felt a lot of rage and pain and I felt powerless. I knew this was an accident waiting to happen.

"Mario asked the bosses to take measures so the miners didn't run the risk of getting buried. But they never listened. A lot of the miners said they had heard the mountain groaning. One said he didn't want to go down the mine that day, he was afraid. But the boss said to him either you go down or I have five other people who will go down.

"I never doubted that I had a lot of faith they were all alive and that they were all together and that's how they found them. All together!"

Esteban Rojas
Esteban Rojas

Jessica Yanez, partner of Esteban Rojas: "Those first days were unforgettable it was huge uncertainty, just waiting and waiting.

"Those were very bitter moments. I was crying day and night. I didn't want to sleep. I didn't want to go home, because my loved one wasn't with me, and when I ate I got angry with myself because I thought of him going hungry.

"I held out hope Esteban had been outside the mine. When I was crying I hoped he was going to come out and hug me and say, 'Darling, I'm here.' But the hours went by and they reported the names of the missing miners and Esteban never came."

Scarlett Sepulveda, daughter of Mario Sepulveda: "I felt rage and pain and frustration. I thought how can they be trapped like that. They're not animals. But here in Chile they've always treated our miners like animals.

"It's horrible. I miss him so much. My dad always cheered us up and made us laugh. I just feel so so bad.

"I was sad and disillusioned. I didn't want to hear anything more about the accident. It's not exactly that I lost hope. It's just I didn't want to get my hopes up too high."

Ariel Ticona
Ariel Ticona

Hector Ticona, father of Ariel Ticona: "I was stunned by the news but I didn't cry. I'm not the kind to cry. But my wife began to cry and I tried to calm her down and said take it easy; we don't know anything for sure just yet.

"I always had faith and I stayed calm. And then what happened happened. And then the miracle came."

Elizabeth Segovia, wife of Ariel Ticona: "I was cooking his evening meal and waiting for him to come home. ... When I heard about the accident my world just collapsed. I cried and cried. I couldn't even sleep for five days straight. But I had to try and be strong especially for my two sons."

Jessica Salgado, wife of Richard Alex Vega: "At the time it didn't sink in that the accident had been so big. ... I cried a lot but I was trying to keep my spirits up because of the children. I kept phoning his cell phone and it just rang and rang and kept going to voice mail."

Richard Alex Vega
Richard Alex Vega

Jose Vega, father of Richard Alex Vega: "I'm not the kind of person to sit there with my arms crossed and crying. I said my son needs my help and I'm going after him.

"I went into the mine with five others to try and find them. It was terrible, terrible. I looked up and the roof was opening. Rocks were falling down and I was looking for a way to make it through the shower of rocks. So I left Jose, the man, at the door, and Jose, the miner went inside. A miner must be brave. It's like the boxer when he steps into the ring. He must leave his fear outside."

Cristina Nunez, wife of Claudio Yanez: "A friend phoned and said the San Esteban [San Jose] mine has just collapsed and the miners are trapped inside. I said, 'What? that can't be true!' And I began crying. I was crying and I couldn't talk I was just crying and crying. ... I said my Claudio can't leave me like this. Claudio has to be alive."

Part of complete coverage on
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Learn more about the 33 trapped miners and the rescue plans
Milestones in the rescue efforts
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