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Inelia Villacoa in 'Camp Hope,' where families of trapped miners in Chile anxiously await their emergence from below ground. (Nathan VanderKlippe/The Globe and Mail/Nathan VanderKlippe/The Globe and Mail)
Inelia Villacoa in 'Camp Hope,' where families of trapped miners in Chile anxiously await their emergence from below ground. (Nathan VanderKlippe/The Globe and Mail/Nathan VanderKlippe/The Globe and Mail)

With risky mine rescue imminent, 'have faith in God. Nothing else' Add to ...

Inelia Villacoa walked into a small room to stare at a grainy video feed of her son from more than 600 metres beneath Chile's Atacama Desert.

Taking turns talking into a telephone handset with her daughter Cecilia Rojas, she exchanged encouragement with Pablo Rojas, a 45-year-old miner who followed his father and grandfather in pursuit of the rich gold and copper deposits that lie beneath the parched slopes that sweep across this arid landscape.

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They had two minutes, enough time to learn that Mr. Rojas is well, that he is happy and calm - and counting down the minutes until he can see his family after more than two months of separation. It is, Ms. Villacoa hopes, the last time she will speak with her son from underground, in a conversation freighted with the emotional weight of what is to come: a looming rescue from the depths that families can only hope will be safe.

"I told him, 'You need to have faith in God. Nothing else,' " Ms. Rojas said.

By Wednesday, officials believe, Mr. Rojas and 32 other trapped miners will one by one begin their trek to the surface, ending a saga that has gripped not only this nation, but the entire planet, as reporters and camera crews arrive by the hundreds to the isolated mine site in Chile's north.

The Chilean government once warned that it could take until Christmas to extricate the miners, who have been trapped in sweltering heat and high humidity that has taken a toll on their lungs and skin, although government officials say the men remain in good health.

Now, the imminence of the moment has been brought home by the clatter of a helicopter conducting practice flights from the isolated mine site, ahead of a planned heli-lift of the men to a hospital in the nearby city of Copiapo once they have been brought to the surface and allowed to briefly meet up to three relatives.

"The day they found them alive, it was a great party. Now it's the same feeling but it's even happier because we really have hope," Gaston Enriquez said on Saturday, when the escape hole was finally complete. Mr. Enriquez has a brother, Jose, trapped below.

It's also brought fresh fervour for a long series of parties and celebrations planned to release months of tension.

Friends are stocking liquor supplies for a party fitting a return from the dead. Police are preparing for celebratory droves to descend upon the central plaza in Copiapo, the nearby city of 130,000 from where most of the miners hail. Extended families - including those who have discovered new relatives through this ordeal - are preparing huge festivities.

Wives, girlfriends and mistresses - some of whom have emerged only in the past two months - are getting ready, too, with a little help from some savvy promoters.

On Saturday, lingerie store operator Gerardo Pina and several assistants walked the mine's crowded, dusty, gravel thoroughfare, emptying bags of lacy negligees and barely there schoolgirl skirts into the hands of those women who hope to soon greet their men once again.

"We're trying to give them joy," Mr. Pina said. "The 33 need to relax."

Yet they will be released into a world they may scarcely recognize - one in which their tale of survival has transformed them into global celebrities who have been offered trips around the world, iPods courtesy of Steve Jobs and just over $10,000 each by a prominent Chilean businessman.

That's equivalent to about a year and half in earnings for some of the men, whose families hope the bright glare of the global spotlight won't keep them from some rest.

First, though, they will celebrate, and perhaps no family has more cause for festivity than the Rojas clan, who have not one, but three, relatives deep beneath the earth. Pablo is together underground with cousins Antonio and Esteban.

Together, the three men, all in their 40s, have nine children.

"All we want is to get them out quickly," said Cecilia Rojas, Pablo's sister, for whom the nervous anticipation has already brought many sleepless nights.

And there will, no doubt, be many more to come - although they will be filled not with anxiety, but joy. The planning is already under way at the house of Priscilla Vega and Roberto Ramirez, a casino singer and mariachi player, who are preparing a musical performance for a campground gathering of 100 relatives this Saturday. They will lead their family in a song they wrote for Ms. Vega's brother, Alex, the day before they discovered he was still alive.

"Without you," they will sing, "a better world doesn't exist."

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