Monday, May 14, 2012

Buried Alive! How 33 Miners Survived 69 Days Deep Under the Chilean Desert - a review

Scott, Elaine. 2012. Buried Alive! How 33 Miners Survived 69 Days Deep Under the Chilean Desert. New York: Clarion.

Though it may seem as if it were only yesterday, it's been nearly two years since the San José mine collapse in Chile's Atacama Desert. The first collapse occurred on August 5, 2010. For two days, an escape route remained open, however, the escape ladder was only 690 feet long. The distance to the surface was 2,300 feet. A subsequent and more devastating collapse occurred two days later on August 7, effectively sealing thirty-three miners underground. It was 9:55pm, October 13, 2010, when the last miner, foreman Luis Urzúa, finally emerged.

Buried Alive! offers a chronological story that is contextual and multi-faceted. Using a theme of cooperation (chapters are titled "Surviving Together," "Working Together," "Planning Together," "Living Together," and "Rejoicing Together"), Elaine Scott begins with an introduction of the various factors that draw men into the mine, including poverty, tradition, and national pride. Other chapters recount the extraordinary way that the miners, under the direction of Urzúa, known affectionately as Don Lucho, organized themselves fairly and purposefully to survive the ordeal, never knowing until they surfaced if they would survive.

Not covered much in televised accounts, was the real meaningful work that the men did to help themselves. They dug sanitary trenches, aided the drillers with useful information, and dug drainage and holding pools for the 18,421 gallons of water that were necessary to cool and lubricate the drill bits as they ground down to the mens' refuge, a 14-day project.

Scott also follows the cooperative scene at Camp Hope, the makeshift town including a school and medical facility, that sprung up to house the thousands of people living in tents above the mine - family members, would-be rescuers, Chilean military members, and more - all awaiting news of "los 33." And journalists were there to provide it,

an estimated 1,700 of them, representing thirty-three countries on five continents. The world had its eye, its ear, and most important, its heart on Camp Hope and the thirty-three men who were buried alive.

The cooperative (and, in the case of the drillers, competitive) spirit of the rescuers is chronicled as well. Rescue plans and offers of assistance arrived from around the globe.  The logistics of drilling so far down into the ground without mishap is explained in fascinating detail.

Most people will be familiar with the jubilant scenes of rescue, but it does not feel as "old news," rather, Scott's writing rekindles the emotions of the day.

An afterword tells the somewhat saddening stories of what has happened in the miners' lives since the rescue, but the overarching message of Buried Alive! is one of togetherness - for 69 days, the trapped miners, their families and the rest of the world were together in hopefulness.

 Buried Alive! How 33 Miners Survived 69 Days Deep Under the Chilean Desert is dedicated "To the thirty-three miners and those who worked, waited, and worried until they were finally free." I count myself among the millions of people who worried about the fate of these amazing men. This is a story that will live on for many, many years to come. Elaine Scott has done a superb job in telling it.

Extensively researched, sourced and indexed with detailed author's notes. Contains numerous photographs.

Reuters news article, slide show and video of the rescue.

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is hosted by Ms. Yingling Reads.


  1. This does look interesting, but I wonder how long the students will pick this one up after the memory of the event fades. (Says someone who cannot bear to get rid of her Mt. St. Helens books!)

  2. Hopefully, this story will remain relevant and compelling(and, as someone who breathed in the dust of the Mt. St. Helens eruption, I know that story is compelling as well!) simply because it is a very human and uplifting story. Sadly, as I recall, there were no dramatic tales of survival after Mt. St. Helens.

  3. Two years already! I love it when nonfiction youth tales are also the source of inspiration. These men did the world proud.

  4. A very timely book. I am amazed at how quickly 'more recent' events (I noted that this event already happened two years back) can now be published in this format for students to discuss and mull over in school. If I look back during my younger years, this would have taken years and years and years to happen.


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