COPIAPO: Chile`s 33 trapped miners spoke for the first time with their loved ones, reassuring each other in brief but moving conversations by radio-telephone after 24 days underground.
"To hear his voice was a balm to my heart," said Jessica Chille after speaking to her husband, Dario Segovia.
Limited to one minute per miner, the wives, mothers and fathers lined up for their first person-to-person conversations since a cave-in August 5 blocked the miners` exit from the San Jose gold and copper mine.
"I didn`t break down until I told him: ciao, my little boy, we will see each other," said Alicia Campos, after speaking to her son Daniel Herrero.
"His voice is the same. He`s not good but not so bad either," she said.
The conversations were morale boosters for miners and their families who must wait three to four months to be rescued.
Until now, they only have been able to exchange written messages and video images relayed through narrow probe holes.
Out of sight of family and media, engineers finished assembling a powerful Strata 950 drill to bore through more than 700 meters (2,300 feet) of rock and earth to reach the miners.
A delay in the arrival of a missing part set back the schedule by several hours but "drilling will begin on Monday," Mining Minister Laurence Goldborne told reporters.
"The shaft we`re drilling to the shelter will go down 702 meters in a straight line," the engineer in charge of the rescue operation, Andre Sougarret, told AFP on Saturday.
The 30-ton machine will first bore a hole 35 centimeters (14 inches) in diameter, and then enlarge it with a reamer to 66 centimeters (26 inches).
Under optimal conditions, the state-of-the-art Australian-designed drill is capable of advancing 20 meters (66 feet) a day
Goldborne said Sunday that other options had been looked at in hopes of rescuing the miners more quickly, but he said, "There is no technology available that would enable us to perform the rescue in one or two months."
His remarks followed reports that President Sebastian Pinera was pressuring rescuers to get the miners out before September 18, the bicentennial anniversary of Chile`s independence from Spanish colonial rule.
Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday remembered the miners "with special affection" in his angelus prayer at the pontiff`s summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.
He offered them "assurances of my spiritual proximity and my continual prayers, that they maintain serenity during the wait for a happy conclusion to the work undertaken to save them."
The miners and their families shared their hopes when they spoke by radio-phone.
Jessica Yanez`s husband Esteban Rojas reaffirmed a promise to marry her in a church ceremony.
"He told me he had a lot of promises to keep when he got out, and that we were going to plan a wedding. I wanted to hear him say it because I thought he had forgotten," she laughed.
Jessica Cortez said her conversation with her husband Victor Zamora "was short, sweet, what I needed to be more relaxed. He was tranquil, serene. He was confident that soon we would be together," she said.
Mining Minister Laurence Goldborne disclosed that the miners were moving camp to a drier spot about 300 meters deeper inside the mine because some of the men were developing fungal infections and body sores in the hot, dank area where they rode out out the cave-in.
Authorities also have launched a campaign to vaccinate the miners against tetanus, diphtheria, flu and pneumonia to prevent outbreaks of disease.
Miners also have located four sources of water, two of which have been deemed fit for human consumption. The men also have been able to shave and get a change of clothes.
"We`ve turned another page in the operation and on Monday we will begin the maintenance stage, which will last for the next three months," Health Minister Jaime Manalich said.
At the entrance to the mine, at "Camp Hope," where about 100 relatives of miners were keeping a vigil, Chilean artists have continued to put on performances in solidarity with the miners.
Chilean pianist Roberto Bravo on Sunday held a concert for the miners` families. On Saturday, the popular vocal group Inti Illimani performed. But local authorities complained the events have become a burden.
"This is a mining rescue operation, and we would like to insist that it`s not the place (for concerts), even though we acknowledge all the good intentions," said the governor of Atacama, Ximena Matas.
BDST: 1100 HRS, August 30, 2010