Rory Carroll and Jonathan Franklin at San Jose mine
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 12 October 2010 06.22 BST
An estimated 2,000-strong army of journalists and technicians has staked out the San Jose mine in anticipation of the men surfacing in a capsule one by one from midnight tonight local time.
Some families yesterday melted away from Camp Hope, their improvised settlement and vigil since the August 5 mine collapse, as TV crews and reporters swamped the scene.
“Sorry, we appreciate the attention and support you’ve all given us but this is too much, we’re too tired,” the family of Franklin Lobos said to a Japanese team before retreating into its tarpaulin shelter.
A poll of 20 families by the local newspaper La Tercera found that fears of media “overexposure” outweighed concerns over the men’s psychological and physical health.
The hospital in the nearby town of Copiapo, where the men are due to be taken in a helicopter for 48 hours observation, was bracing for a siege with security barriers being erected as TV crews arrived to book spots.
Two wards with taped up windows and heavy curtains – mainly to block sunlight for sensitive eyes but also to offer privacy from prying lenses – have been set aside.
Authorities pleaded with the media to give the men time alone with their loved ones but such is the appetite for the story, and so intense is the competition for the first interviews, that few seemed inclined to oblige.
Jean Romagnoli, a lead doctor on the rescue, said in the past week the men had been given media training to cope with the imminent barrage. “We have been coaching them on that.”
Apart from stories about complicated private lives and rival lovers the miners are expected to be asked about rumours of splits and resentments within “los 33”. There have been reports that, contrary to government accounts of unblemished solidarity and unity, at least five men broke away from the main group.
Victor Segovia quoted his brother Dario, one of the trapped men, as admitting to rows but saying that “what happens in the mine, stays in the mine”.
The miners were already feeling the early edge of fame as they spent much of Monday signing autographs in their underground refuge. A steady stream of flags, t-shirts and banners were sent down to the men who sent the flags back up, signed 33 times and with drawings and personal greetings.
Many focused on grooming to be ready for their media debut. They were sent balsamo and shampoo and requested shoe polish.
Doctors are confident the men were physically ready for the ascent, even Jose Ojeda, 46, who has diabetes, and Mario Gomez, 63, who has silicosis. A doctor who is part of the rescue team said Florencio Avalos, 31, an experienced miner in good physical shape, will be the first to make the cramped, fraught journey in the capsule.
Another candidate to be first was Carlos Mamani, who is also young and fit, but as the only foreigner political reasons required him to be bumped back a bit.
“We can’t put him first because then the Bolivians will think we are using him as a test of the system.”