Americans contrast it with Katrina, oil spill

Plane crashes, terror threats, oil spills, toxic leaks. The TV news diet is often dire, rarely joyous. And then there were the pictures on Wednesday of brave, dignified miners who had been trapped beneath the ground for more than two months being brought to the surface, to breathe fresh air and to hug their loved-ones.

Communications technology “including live video from within the mine” turned the entire world into a global village hoping for the safe release of men they did not know and would probably never meet. It was as if each of us could see ourselves in their place, wondering how we would cope with the sustained terror and then the sudden emergence into the light.

“It feels like we're all there with them even though we're so far away in London,” said Jose Torra (34), early Wednesday morning as the rescue unfolded. “For once it is a story with a good ending.”

They were the hugs felt round the world. It's a feature of the TV age that intimacy can be transmitted live to hundreds of millions of people simultaneously, creating a shared memory of great moments.

“It's a miracle, a wonderful event,” said Bernard Carr, a mathematics and astronomy professor chatting with other passengers at London's Liverpool Street train station.

He praised the miners' camaraderie but cautioned that the stress the men will face now that they are above ground may be more intense than their ordeal below.

Some marvelled at the miners' capacity to cope for so long, and feared they could not have endured the hardship.

“It's pretty amazing to see them stay down there that long and not go crazy,” said Tamara Craiu, a 21-year-old student from Singapore who is taking classes in London. “I'd go mad.”

In Spain, Elias Saguillo, one of some 50 Spanish coal miners who staged a month-long underground protest in September over unpaid wages and demands for subsidies, said he and his colleagues followed the Chilean ordeal day after day and are now elated over the rescue.

“Mainly we are proud of how the Chilean miners endured. From the first day through to the end, they behaved like true miners,” said Saguillo (45) after finishing his shift at Las Cuevas mine in northern Palencia province, where he and colleagues spent 28 days at a depth of 500 meters (1,650 feet).

Saguillo said the worst part for the Chileans had to be the two weeks they spent right after the mine collapsed, before word from above ground reached them and they did not know if anyone was even looking for them. “Every possible fear must have gone through their heads.”

The riveting rescue images were broadcast live throughout much of the West Asia, Asia, Europe and Africa throughout the night and during the day, drawing round-the-clock coverage from many cable outlets.

State broadcaster China Central Television ran a segment on its evening broadcast while the official Chinese news agency Xinhua carried an editorial praising the rescue. “For more than two months, the miners, families, citizens and the government all have created a miracle of life. The rescue reflects the shining moment of human nature.”

China's avid interest is partly a reflection of its own sensitivity to mining issues. In Seoul, the miners were a top news item on numerous media outlets, with 24-hour all-news channel YTN closely following the rescue.

Clifford Aron, an American businessman who lives in Poland, said he was deeply moved by the heroism of the miners and the quality of Chile's leaders.

“The obvious contrast is with America,” said Aron (52) a Brooklyn native. “With Hurricane Katrina, the Bush administration was completely incompetent and out to lunch on the human tragedy; with the BP oil spill, the Obama approach was to punt over responsibility to BP. The Chileans have shown us what leadership and crisis management is all about. Lives were at stake and the whole machinery of government snapped into action.”

“This was the most amazing story I had ever seen,” he said. “Those miners are the greatest heroes I can think of for their endurance and solidarity in the most unimaginable conditions. What an inspiration to us all to learn how to get along.”

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