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Chile's Huge Open-pit Copper Mine Goes Underground

Conditions at Chuquicamata today are nothing like what Guevara and Neruda described. Mining remains a dangerous occupation and many workers still suffer injuries at marginal private operations, such as the San Jose mine that collapsed in 2010, trapping 33 workers underground for 69 days.

But mining deaths nationally fell 36 percent last year and it was Codelco that led the rescue of the trapped miners at San Jose, mesmerizing millions worldwide.

The seven-floor hospital Anaconda built in the 1960s is now buried under thousands of tons of rock from the expanding mine. The school's windows are broken and boarded up, and empty homes are caked in dirt. A flattened, dusty soccer ball lies on one of its abandoned streets. The town of 20,000 people was evacuated in 2007 to nearby Calama to make room for the mountains of mine waste now baking like elephants in the sun.

President Sebastian Pinera says Chileans should put nostalgia aside and look at the Chuqui of the future â¿¿ an underground mine that will keep delivering wealth to the nation for another 50 years.

"We have to prepare ourselves for the end of the old Chuquicamata and at the same time the new Chuqui, that starts today," Pinera said in July as he ordered the blast that began the work.

"It's nostalgic but we feel we're making history," said Mauricio Vivero, a construction engineer at Chuqui. "Perhaps the grandchildren of some of the miners that Che saw are now doctors, engineers, or even work right here. This mine gave us everything. Behind this mine, rests a whole country."

___

Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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