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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Buried Alive, written by Elaine Scott. Clarion, Thomas Allen & Son. 2012. $18.99 ages 10 and up

"No one in the camp or below in the mine was certain about anything. Because of the stress that the miners were under, only three family members were allowed to greet each miner as he emerged from the capsule. Everyone else would watch the rescue on television sets that were set up all over the camp."

We are coming up to the second anniversary of the mine collapse that shocked people from around the world...thirty three miners trapped 2300 feet below the ground in a copper mine in the Atacama Desert in Chile. The first alarm was sounded on August 5 and the families held out hope that through the one escape route that remained open, their loved ones might be saved. The escape ladder reached less than 700 feet into the mine. Add to that heartbreaking discovery, another collapse which buried the men underground. The world heard nothing from the miners for seventeen days.

Elaine Scott does a brilliant job of telling their story for a young audience. She follows the chronology of the disaster, beginning with an introduction that helps us understand the lure of the mine, and the reasons that men choose mining as a way of life. There are many reasons...following in the footsteps of other family members, poverty and lack of other viable jobs, pride in doing work that is important to their country. Whatever the reason, on that day, Luis Urzua and thirty-two other miners were working their shift when 'there was a rumble, then a sharp, explosive crash."

Mario Gomez describes it:

"That was the most terrible day. In the middle of the cave-in, I thought that we'd never get out of there again. It felt like the mountain was exploding all around us. It cracked. It moved. It stretched like chewing gum. This went on for about twenty minutes." No one but those men can imagine the terror.

They had a calm and tenacious leader in Luis...he got them to the refuge and spent his days encouraging them to help themselves as much as possible to ensure their safety and prolong their lives. As we watched the daily televised accounts, we knew little of what was happening so far below the surface. Again, Elaine Scott writes with empathy and great detail so her readers do know the many dangers faced, and challenges for each of the miners.

It is a personal and outstanding account of people working around the world to try to find a way to get the men home to their families. In detailed text she tells of the drills used to try to find a way to where the men were working when the mine collapsed. Even knowing the outcome, I found the tension palpable as she described the failures faced, the repeated attempts to drill through the hard rock mountain and the gruelling work that finally led to finding them and knowing that they were alive.

For sixty-nine days families and friends waited and worried over the fate of their loved ones. We shared their apprehension and wonder as each one of the miners made the ascent from the hot and humid depths to Camp Hope and their first contact with those they loved.  Their story is remarkable with an aura of sadness. This is real life, and things don't always go as one would hope.

Following their rescue, a Chilean mine owner gave each of the miners '5 million pesos (about $10, 950) and a motorcycle.' His generosity was very much appreciated, but today:

"For many of the men, the money is now gone. It has been reported that Claudio Yanez and Pedro Cortez have sold their motorcycles for food. According to Chilean newspaper El Mercurio, fifteen of the miners are now unemployed, three are selling fruits and vegetables on the street, two are running small grocery stores, and four men have returned to the mines. Among the unemployed are men who are too psychologically damaged from their ordeal beneath the earth to return to work."

Her expert research and her impeccable storytelling make this a book that should be read by everyone from the middle grades up. It is compelling nonfiction at its best. I will read it again!

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