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Miners' Escape Shaft Reinforced, Rescue Nears

Rescue workers insert steel pipes to encase the escape tunnel that will be used to free trapped miners at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile, 10 Oct 2010

Chilean workers have finished reinforcing an escape shaft that will be used to rescue the 33 miners trapped underground for more than two months.

The government said engineers completed lining part of the narrow shaft with sheet metal Monday morning. Rescue workers will now test the special escape capsule that will be used to bring the miners up the shaft and to the surface one by one.

Chile's Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said the rescue operation likely will begin Wednesday and will take two days.

Chilean Health Minister Jaime Manalich said the miners are so confident about the rescue that they are arguing over who will be the last to take the more than 600-meter ride to freedom. He said that "everyone wanted to be at the end of the line, not the beginning."

A team of 16 paramedics and rescue experts has been preparing to help bring the miners to the surface. Authorities say some of the team will join the miners underground to make their journey as easy as possible.

In a drama that unfolded before television cameras from around the world, bells rang and sirens blared signaling that the escape shaft had been completed. Engineers embraced and jumped for joy. Relatives, waiting at what has been nicknamed "Camp Hope," laughed and cried. Some described the moment as "overwhelming."

The miners have been trapped since part of the mine collapsed on August 5. Crews have been sending food, water, games, letters and other items to the men through small supply shafts.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.