Miners gather for emotional return

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The Independent US

Some of the rescued miners returned to the mine for a religious service at the place where they spent 69 days trapped underground yesterday.

The miners, their families and friends attended a ceremony led by Roman Catholic and Protestant clergy at the mouth of the San Jose gold and copper mine from which they were hoisted to freedom on Wednesday in a flawless rescue operation watched by hundreds of millions of people around the world.

The private service was held in the area known as "Camp Hope," the tent city where family members gathered to pray and await news about their husbands, sons and fathers trapped for 69 days at 2,050 feet underground.

"It was inspiring," 52-year-old Juan Illanes, described by many as the group's spokesman, said after the ceremony as miners' relatives dismantled the tents that became their homes during the ordeal.

"Seeing this camp I feel I've had incredible support," he added. "It gives you strength."

As the miners sang hymns inside a cordoned-off tent, some of their co-workers who were not caught in the cave-in protested, blowing horns and holding up banners to demand that the mine's owners compensate them for the jobs they have lost.

"We are not 33, we are 300," read one placard. "Trapped on the surface," said another.

After the ceremony, Mario Gomez, who at 63 is the oldest of the 33 men, helped his family pack up their tent and voiced support for his out-of-work colleagues.

"We always had faith that we were going to get out. Now it is time to rest," he said.

The service was closed to the press. During the ceremony, participants could be heard clapping loudly and singing Chile's national anthem.

So far, the miners have not revealed many of the details about what it was like after the cave-in left them huddled together in a dark, damp cavern. Some have said they are saving their stories for a book.

Gomez's daughter said he has not talked about the worst moments and the family has not pressed him to open up.

"I want to know everything," Romina Gomez, 20, told Reuters. "But we don't want to ask him."