Sunday, August 29, 2010

On Songs and Hope

I've been reading the news about the mine in Chile which collapsed on August 5 with 33 miners inside.  On August 22, rescuers contacted them by drilling a 6 inch wide hole to their shelter.  The miners had stayed alive by severely rationing their food supplies.  They had each had a half glass of milk and two mouthfuls of canned tuna once every 48 hours.  Rescuers on the surface will send the men supplies, communications, and encouragement through the 6 inch wide hole until they drill a hole large enough to evacuate the men, probably in about 4 months.

Compare this to one of the worst, most infamous mine disasters in history, the one in Springhill, Nova Scotia in 1955.  The mine was a massive labyrinth of galleries, some as deep as 14,000 ft below the earth's surface.  On October 3, 1955 the mine experienced a large "bump."  (In a masterpiece of understatement, "bump" means an underground explosion.)  The "bump" was so strong that it was felt by people outside the mine.  Rescue teams worked heroically, descending down partially collapsed mine shafts and carving out new tunnels, looking for survivors.  The rescue operation lasted for 8 days.  Out of 174 trapped miners, 100 were miraculously rescued.  The biggest miracle of all was the survival of 12 men trapped in a gallery 100 feet long and only 3 feet high.  The heat was intense, the air dark and  smoky, and the food provisions woefully inadequate.  When the food and water ran out, the men sang songs to keep their spirits up.  Less fortunate than the current Chilean miners, these 12 men they lived on "songs and hope," as described by Peggy Seeger, until they were rescued.

Today, more than 50 years after the explosion, the mine is largely filled with water but still burning, providing a source of geothermal heat.  The tragedy is described in powerful terms in the song "The Ballad of Springhill" by Peggy Seeger.  Here it is sung by U2.

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