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Dems Running Against Obama; White House Lifts Deepwater Drilling Ban; Awaiting Start of Miner Rescue

Aired October 12, 2010 - 17:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: If we can get all 33 guys of these out of here.

And on that note, we're watching, waiting on this story, as is Wolf Blitzer, so I send it up to you, sir, "THE SITUATION ROOM."

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Brooke, thanks very much.

Happening now, breaking news -- 33 miners are bracing for the dangerous escape from their underground prison. The rescue operation now appears set to begin, maybe as soon as within the hour. CNN is the place to follow their journey to freedom. You'll see it all live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

This hour, as well, we'll help you understand exactly what these men will be going through, from the physical shock of their ride to the surface to the emotional trauma once they reenter the world.

And the Obama administration is lifting its ban on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

Are precautions in place to prevent another disaster like the one in the Gulf?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


But we begin with the breaking news. This is what those 33 miners are preparing for right now. One by one, they'll squeeze into a rescue cage, bumping, spinning and rising slowly to the surface. It will be the first time they've been separated in over two months together -- trapped in the dark, 2,300 feet underground. The breaking news this hour -- the rescue is due to start momentarily in Chile. Officials say they hope at least one miner will be free within the next few hours.

We begin our countdown with CNN's Gary Tuchman.

He's live in Chile on the scene for us -- Gary, a dramatic moment, indeed.

Set the stage for our viewers here and around the world.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's so great to cover a story like this -- a mining disaster -- what began as a mining disaster, that we have a very strong feeling will end up completely happy. And this is the best team in the house for the news media, that yellow pole where the poles are, that is where the men will be pulled up. This actually looks like a sewer cap right under those yellow poles. And that's what will happen. This is what's being told to us by a top police official here in Chile. He told us in about one hour, the plan is to bring down a paramedic and a mine rescuer to the bottom of the mine, 2,300 feet down, almost half a mile, to evaluate the situation on the ground. I'm sure it will be absolute pandemonium when these 33 miners see two outsiders -- the first time they've seen other people in person in seven weeks.

And then, about two hours from now, in and around two hours, that's the quote from the police official, they expect to pull the first of the 33 men to the surface. His family will be waiting here. The plan is to have three families at a time and three tents that are behind us, waiting for their family members. Each miner will take about 16 or 17 minutes to make the climb in the steel cylinder that makes its way up. It's called the Phoenix because it's like a phoenix rising -- rising through the earth, bringing these men to safety.

Now it could take -- we did the math -- 16 or 17 men, it's nine or 10 hours to do the whole thing. It's not clear how long it will take, though, because we'll see, after the first couple of people come up, how quickly they can go, how much slower they have to go.

They'll see if they have to suspend things tomorrow, because when they start, it will get dark -- it will be dark out. And they want it to be darker because these men have not seen anything bright for seven weeks and they're afraid of what it could do to their eyes. So there's a possibility they may slow down the operation when it gets to daylight tomorrow. So this could go until Thursday. It could go until Friday. But the fact is, everyone fully expects that all 33 men will be OK when they come out of the mine right behind us -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, as you say, four men will first go down to begin the process. They're going to go down this shaft, meet with these 33 miners, and then one by one, they'll go up.

But who are these four individuals who will go down there?

TUCHMAN: Well, it's two individuals who will go down there. It's a paramedic who is here from Chile, who's an expert treating any emergency situation that might be happening on the ground that they don't know about, and, also, an expert mine rescuer who's trained for these types of incidents -- obviously, not this type of incident, where someone is down there for seven weeks, but any incident where someone gets stuck.

And unfortunately here in Chile, they have a lot of experience with miners getting stuck. There are a lot of accidents in this country.

Once they're down there, they'll evaluate the situation and then they'll start sending the men up one by one. It has to go one by one. That's the only way to do that. And, for the last five hours -- this is a very interesting and important point -- the men have all been put on a liquid only diet. And the reason they have done that is because they're afraid -- not necessary -- not scared, but they think that the cylinder will twist and turn as it goes up, like a very scary amusement park ride. And they feel that some of the men might get nauseous. And they don't want any problems once they're coming on the cylinder ride up to safety.

BLITZER: We're imminent -- we're waiting for this imminent start of this rescue operation.

And Gary Tuchman is going to be with us throughout.

Gary, don't go too far away.

This is what the miners will wear as they're hoisted to the surface. The coveralls are moisture resistant and each miner will get a pair that's personalized with his name on it. If all goes well, the miners will be reunited with their families once the risky 15, 16, 17 minute journey is over.

But one mine safety expert says they may never be the same.


DENNIS O'DELL, UNITED MINE WORKERS ASSOCIATION: Immediately, you've got to worry about whether these guys will be nauseated. And then there's the temperature change that you have to worry about, you know, going from 90 degrees underground to the colder temperatures outside. So you have to worry about acute hypertension, sudden drops of blood pressure because of how fast they have to bring them out. So those are the things that you have to worry about immediately as far as their health issues go.

And then there's the mental part of it. You know, there are going to be separation anxiety because it's going to be the first time that they're actually away from the -- from the rest of the group that they're with. And they have to contend with that. And then, of course, we all know once they get outside, you know, that's when the big changes -- the big worries start.


BLITZER: That's Dennis O'Dell. I'll speak live with him in our next hour, as we get closer and closer to the start of the miners' rescue. We're told it should start within the hour.

Let's talk a little bit more now about what's in store for these 33 miners, men like Jimmy Sanchez. He's the youngest, just 19 years old.

CNN's Brian Todd is going to take us through this rescue and how the miners have been getting ready for it -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we spoke to two NASA doctors today -- two doctors who went to Chile to advise the rescuers on the risks of this rescue and how to prepare. First, the miners have been getting ready over the past few weeks by using a controlled diet with more protein and less carbs and treating any medical conditions they have, like hypertension and diabetes, with medicines that they've been sent. And they've been able to -- but they have to also be able to fit into a capsule that is very small. We've seen the pictures of that and video demonstrating it -- a very small capsule. They have all lost weight during the first weeks, when they were low on food. Wolf, they've got to be able to fit in that. As you can see, it's just barely wide enough to hold a man.

BLITZER: What are the key risks during the assent, Brian?

TODD: One risk is low blood pressure or low blood sugar during this trip. You mentioned it may take between 15 and 20 minutes. So this afternoon, they likely switched to an all liquid diet, as you heard Gary mention a moment ago -- a fluid loading protocol -- probably salt pills and electrolytes like Gatorade. Another risk -- they could be stuck for hours standing because it's too small to sit down in here. If they faint, they'll be held up by a harness that they're in, that's inside that capsule -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, what other equipment will the miners have with them in case, God forbid, something goes wrong during the ascent?

TODD: Well, they're going to have a monitoring bell and I can show that to you right now. We've got a picture of that. We'll move this picture over. That's the monitoring belt right there. That will monitor their vitals for signs of distress. They're going to have a two-way radio and two way video so that doctors can coach them, if needed, if they develop difficulty breathing. They'll have an oxygen tank. They'll also have some anxiety medication available to those who think they will need it.

There will also be a big temperature difference. You heard Dennis O'Dell and Gary mention that, as well. So they're going to jackets -- these green jackets that we have showed you -- that are going to whisk away moisture. And, also, when they get onto the light -- this is very important, the adjustment of the eyes to the light. Their eyes could be at risk, so they're going to give them these sunglasses to protect them from what they call corneal spasm. That's just a -- an extreme reaction to the change in light.

BLITZER: And they -- they are obviously well prepared. They've been thinking a lot about this. This is still, though, I have to stress, a very risky, risky operation.

The miners certainly have been waiting and hoping for this day to come ever since August 5, when part of the San Jose Mine collapsed. In a remarkable stroke of luck, all 33 miners were in a refuge shelter eating lunch at that exact moment. But no one on the surface knew they were alive until 17 days later. That's when rescuers who had been drilling bore holes found a note from one of the miners attached to their drill bits. Experts and equipment were brought in from all over the world to help drill deeper holes. On Saturday, one of those three holes being drilled broke through the area where the miners are trapped.

It's been widened and reinforced. And now, it's ready for the rescue operation to begin. It should begin, as I say, within the hour. We're not leaving this story for long. Stay with us.

But there's another important story breaking right now here in the United States -- a federal judge's new order for the United States military to stop enforcing the "don't ask/don't tell" policy. It's the same judge who had previously ruled that the ban on gays serving openly in the United States military is unconstitutional.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is standing by.

All right, what does this mean, Chris, for the Obama administration right now?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It means, basically, as of now, that "don't ask/don't tell" is no longer the law of the land, Wolf. And that applies to every man and woman in uniform worldwide, no matter where they're serving.

Take a look here at -- at the judge's ruling, in which she orders the Defense secretary, Robert Gates, and the U.S. government, immediately suspend and discontinue any investigation or discharge, separation or other proceeding that may have been commenced under the Don't Ask/Don't Tell Act.

Now, the Log Cabin Republicans, which is the group that actually sued the government to bring this suit, is still advising their members do not come out yet. And that's because the government has 60 days to appeal this ruling. And, in fact, a Department of Justice spokesman told us they are reviewing the ruling right now.

Here's where it gets political. A petition has been circulating through Congress advising President Obama and his administration not to pursue this appeal, to sort of let the courts take the lead and overturn "don't ask/don't tell" legally, not legislatively.

As you know, just about two weeks ago, Democrats did not have the votes to push through a conditional repeal of "don't ask/don't tell." By all accounts, they're going to lose seats here in a few weeks in the midterm elections. So the prospects of pushing this through legislatively are pretty dim, especially when you consider the Pentagon review of this policy isn't going to come out until December. That leaves a very, very tight window between then and when everybody breaks for -- for the holidays in Congress.

You know, I've spoken to a lot of troops. And, obviously, they don't want to come on camera and state publicly. But privately, you know, some have told me, you know, look, joining the military is a -- a privilege, not a right. It is not the same as a civilian corporation. The -- the military discriminates against people with disabilities, people who are too fat. They aren't allowed to join. That would be discrimination in a civilian job.

Other people have told me, look, I -- I've been deployed in Afghanistan. We knew one or two or three people in our unit was gay. It was never a problem. You know, we just looked the other way -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A major decision the Obama administration is going to have to make right now, Chris, as you know, whether or not to appeal this judge's decision. Presumably, it will go to the highest court of the land, the United States Supreme Court, at some place down the road.

But we'll watch it together with you.

Chris Lawrence joining us, our Pentagon correspondent.

Huge news today -- "don't ask/don't tell" no longer the law of the land, at least according to this federal judge.

We'll stay on top of this story.

Also, another move by the Obama administration is renewing concerns about another oil rig explosion -- why the Obama administration decided to lift the ban on deepwater drilling today.

We'll have a full report.

And we'll stay on top of the breaking news. They've survived 68 days underground, but will the trapped miners be able to cope with freedom?

We're standing by for the start of the rescue operation. It's imminent.


BLITZER: Momentarily, it's about to begin, the rescue of the 33 trapped miners. We're all over this story. You'll see it live unfold here in THE SITUATION ROOM once this rescue operation begins. You're looking at live pictures right now from Chile. We're watching the fate of these 33 miners. We won't go too far away from this story.

Meanwhile, the final days of the midterm campaigning underway right now. That's certainly on Jack Cafferty's mind. Jack is here. He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: With the midterm elections just three weeks away now, some Democrats are running scared and running away from their own president. Congressman Bill Owens, who won a special House seat in a conservative upstate New York district last year, is out with a new ad declaring that he voted, quote, "With the Republican leader 63 percent of the time."

A Democrat bragging about how he voted with the Republicans, and he's not the only one. Other vulnerable Democrats have been proposing their votes against some of President Obama's signature pieces of legislation, things like health care reform and stimulus bill.

One Democrats campaign ad goes so far as to show the candidate shooting a bullet through the cap and trade legislation. Another uses an ad to out the his support of President Bush's Medicare plan -- President Bush's.

The Democrats claim this is all good. Really? The lawmaker in charge of keeping control of the House, which is a tall order this election season -- in fact, it ain't going to happen -- says this is actually a sign of his party's strength. Come again?

Congressman Chris Van Hollen insists that the Democrats are proud to have an ideologically diverse caucus. He says members who voice their opposition to the president are showing independence to certain issues. Van Hollen said Democrats have a big tent and they're problem solvers.

Maybe, but the White House has to be at least a little nervous that Democrats are distancing themselves from the president and from some of his key initiatives.

So here's the question: Is it really OK for the Democrats when their own party members are running against President Obama? Go to, post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Certainly is awkward, Jack. Thanks very much.

A lot of news, important news happening today. The rescue of the 33 miners in Chile about to begin.

The federal judge says "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is not the law of the land. That must be lifted right now, this judge says.

And there's other news over at the White House as well. The end to what some have considered an unfair casualty of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The Obama administration announcing today it's lifting the six-month moratorium on deepwater oil drilling.

Let's go to our White House correspondent Dan Lothian, he has the details for us -- Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, there has been has been a lot of pressure on the administration to lift the ban, concerns that it was costing jobs and hurting the local and regional economy.

But administration officials said that they wanted to get a chance to figure out what was going on and put together some standards to prevent another oil disaster.

The question now, though, is it enough?


(voice-over): The oil industry got the green light from the government along with a flashing caution signal -- OK to start deepwater exploratory drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, but under tighter rules and stronger oversight. ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Each operator has to certify what the worst-case scenario is and that they have the ability to meet that scenario.

LOTHIAN: In a conference call with reporters, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Michael Bromwich, who heads the agency charged with overseeing offshore drilling, said the timing was based on facts gathered and the new rules.

KEN SALAZAR, INTERIOR SECRETARY: The agenda, we have made and continued to make significant progress in reducing the risks associated with deepwater drilling.

LOTHIAN: But environmental groups are skeptical.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's too early. We still don't know what happened out on the Deepwater Horizon rig, and I think until we do know that with some degree of certainty, we're still gambling with the Gulf.

LOTHIAN: The Obama administration has been under pressure from the oil industry and even fellow Democrats to lift the ban because of economic reasons. Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu was even threatening to block the nomination of OMB nominee Jack Liu if the moratorium wasn't lifted. She's still not satisfied, calling the decision "a good start that must come with a action plan to get the entire industry of the Gulf of Mexico back to work."

But this oil company subcontractor and this restaurant general manager are hoping that by lifting the ban, some of the economic pressures in the region will be eased.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the best news I've heard in a year.

LOTHIAN (on camera): Tell me why it's good news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's good. It's going to put a lot of people back to work.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It definitely pushes more revenue into the pockets of the people who are working, which in turn affects everything economically.


LOTHIAN: So the ban wasn't expected to be expired rather until the end of next month. Some people are raising their eyebrows here trying to check out the timing. What's it worth? Could it be politics because of the midterm elections? But Robert Gibbs today said that politics in the region or outside of the region did not play a role -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian over at the White House for us, thanks very much.

We're now only minutes away from the start of the dramatic rescue operation to free 33 miners trapped thousands of feet underground in Chile, about half a mile underground. We're going back live to the scene, stand by.

Also, more top stories, including new legal troubles for the embattled megachurch bishop, Eddie Long.


BLITZER: All right, you're looking at live pictures in Chile right now. They're getting ready to send two individuals down to begin this process of rescuing these 33 trapped miners. They're a half a mile underground, they're going to begin this process that will eventually one by one lift these miners back to the surface.

Let's go back to the scene, Gary Tuchman is joining us now.

Gary, I can't stress how excited everyone is at the possibility, but at the same time, there are serious risks in this rescue operation.

TUCHMAN: There's no question, Wolf, nothing is guaranteed and that's what officials have been trying to emphasize for the last several days. We believe lit be a happy ending. We hope it will be a happy ending. We think it will be a happy ending. But nothing is guaranteed because nothing like this has ever happened before. There have never be miners in the history of mining in the known history of the world that have been underground for as long as these men have. And on a windswept Spring day in the South American nation of Chile, they're expecting and hoping to have a major celebration in a short amount of time.

It's expected in about an hour and 35 minutes, that's the planned schedule right now, the first miner will come up from the earth right under the yellow posts where you can see the truck right there. There's actually a sewer cap. It looks like a sewer, but that's actually where the drilling -- the plan B drilling, as they call it -- is taken place. Twenty-three hundred feet, they have a compartment that's going down there, it's called the Phoenix cylinder. It's called the Phoenix because it's rising from the ashes just like the Phoenix bird of ancient times.

And the plan is to have a 16 to 17-minute ride each and every one of these 33 miners. The plan is the first few miners who will come up are expected to be the miners in the best health. The idea is they're not sure exactly how it's going to transpire, they want miners in good mental health, good physical health.

Then, after the first few in good health, the weakest miners and no one could be very weak to survive this long down there, but the weakest miners. There's one man with diabetes, there's one man with hypertension, those men are expected to come up very soon.

There are great stories about these men that are in the mine. One man, his wife had a baby while he was down here. Another man is about to have a baby. Another man, his fiance proposed to him while he was underground. And there's another man whose a big Elvis Presley fan who's been playing that music to entertain the miners during their time underground.

Wolf, this is a remarkable story. We're expecting it to be a happy ending. And if it is what we expect, the pictures will be unforgettable.

BLITZER: What -- you're standing in front of what looks like that mine. Is that what you're standing in front of? I wonder if your photographer could pan over and get a closer look at what's behind you. I assume that's where this process will begin.

TUCHMAN: Wolf, can you say that again? It's a little hard to hear you if you asked me a question.

BLITZER: I assume the process will begin behind you at what we're seeing. Is that right?

I don't think he's hearing me. Standby, Gary, we're going to fix that audio and come back to you.

Gary Tuchman is on the scene for us in Chile. We're going to get all of the eyewitness accounts to what's going on.

NASA experts from here in the United States traveled to Chile to share advice on how to help the miners cope with being cut off from the rest of the world in close quarters for a long period of type. NASA's Deputy Chief Medical Officer James Duncan is back here in Washington, he's joining us on the phone right now.

Mr. Duncan, thanks very much for coming in. What was exactly your job and your NASA colleague's job when you went down to Chile to consult with the authorities down there?

MICHAEL DUNCAN, DEPUTY CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, NASA (via telephone): Wolf, thanks for having me.

The Chileans asked for us to consult on medical conditions and behavioral support that we found as parallels to space flight and what they might be experiencing in a confined environment for a long period of time for the miners.

BLITZER: And what advice did you give them?

DUNCAN: Well, reviewed over three days all the plans that the Chileans had laid out. The Chileans had done a wonderful job in planning the medical care. They were looking at preventive health measures, vaccinations to make sure that the miners were healthy during the course of the confinement.

They had, you know, looked at the recovery efforts, but the post recovery -- post extraction period of time, I think we were able to offer them a lot of insight on how the miners might react to being reintegrated with family and society, and certainly they're celebrity status.

BLITZER: What are your biggest concerns?

DUNCAN: Well, today, you know, certainly an exciting day. I know the miners will be excited.

We've been, you know, working with the Chileans with regards to fluid loading protocol. We want to make sure that they're well hydrated as they begin the assent in the rescue cage. We don't want them to pass out on the way up, which as any military recruit standing at attention for a long period of time might attest to. So it would be very important to make sure that the miners are well protected and well hydrated for that event.

BLITZER: What immediate health tests will they have to take once they reach the surface?

DUNCAN: Immediately when they reach the surface, they will have a primary survey done by the physicians and medical staff on site just to make sure that there aren't any critical medical conditions that need to tended to right there. We don't think there will be anything, but you know, the miners will have to undergo the ascent and we'll have to see how well tolerated that is for the miners.

Once they have a quick assessment of the miners, then they will be in an area where they will be able to have a brief visit with family before they are taken on to a hospital where a more detailed medical exam will be done.

And at that point, depending on the miners condition, they may elect to do some blood laboratory work or any kind of imaging studies, x-rays, that type of thing depending on what the miner's condition might warrant.

BLITZER: They are sending a paramedic down first to begin the process. What do you expect that paramedic's job will do as he gets down half a mile underground and connects with these 33 miners?

DUNCAN: Well, I'm sure he's going to be making his own assessment about the stability of the miner, both from a medical or physiologic standpoint as well as a mental standpoint to is the miner prepared to, you know, undergo this assent in very confined conditions of the capsule. He will also be making sure that the miner is indeed taking the fluid loading that's been described. They will be fitting the miners with some compression stockings on the lower extremities to make sure, again, all in an effort to keep the central blood volume up and to keep the miner from the risk of passing out. He will also be placing the bioharness on the miner and making sure that they've got good signal with topside, to monitor their vital signs on the way up.

BLITZER: We heard the concern about the miners' eyes. They've gotten the sunglasses, presumably coming up it will be dark after they get out after the 15 to 20-minute ride to the top. How concerned are you about their eyes?

DUNCAN: Anytime you've had individuals in virtual darkness for this long a period of time, their eyes are going to be sensitive to amounts of bright light. The one concern that we have, you know, for the eye itself is if they're exposed to any significant amount of sunlight and there's a lot of ultra violent radiation there that could develop a corneal irritation -- most viewers would be familiar with the symptoms of snow blindness if you're not wearing your goggles while skiing, you might have some essentially a sun burn to the cornea.

BLITZER: I've heard it said that there's 33 miners, some as young as 19, others -- the oldest is 63 years old. They will react very differently once they reach the surface. Some will be just fine after a few hours. Others will suffer for -- for maybe days, even week, months, maybe even for the rest of their lives. Talk a little bit about it.

DUNCAN: Wolf, I do think this is going to be a life-changing event for most of the miners. You know, in our astronauts, our astronauts train for the -- for the time that they are going to be away. And they are prepared and educated for the issues of the prolonged confinement and then what they can expect when they get back. The miners were not prepared for that, obviously, since they didn't plan on being trapped in the mine. You know, reintegration in to the family like coming back from a long deployment in the military or reintegration into society will be, you know, maybe very difficult for them. And they will have their own, you know, amount of celebrity status within the country and quite frankly around the world. And, so, as has been noted in other media reports, we understood that the miners have been receiving some training on -- on what to expect in these long periods of time. But, you know, this could go on for some time.

The other thing that's a -- that's important especially in the first few days, these men have been together as a cohesive group, relying on one another's strength. Now suddenly they will be out and they will have different pressures upon them that will tend to fragment the group, each of them going their separate ways. And we note that in crew members that have spent a lot of time together, it can be very upsetting to the individual to lose contact with his comrades and so they will have -- have that kind of issue to face as well.

BLITZER: Yeah, they have a unique bond of the 33 men after all of this time in this mine. Dr. Michael Duncan of NASA, he's the deputy chief medical officer who went down to Chile to help out with the process. Appreciate it very, very much.

By the way, you're looking at these live pictures and you can see the forklift. You can see they're getting ready to open up the process. We expect within the next few minutes for that capsule to go down with two individuals -- one at a time and begin the process -- begin the process of bringing these 33 men up to the top of this mine. Our live coverage of the breaking news from Chile will continue right after this.


BLITZER: We're expecting to see a lot more celebrations like this, if all goes well with the rescue of those 33 trapped miners in Chile. We're standing by for the start of the risky operation. It's about to begin momentarily. They will be pulled out one-by-one. This was the scene when drillers broke through to the area where the miners have been trapped for over two months. You can only imagine the joy when they all are reunited with their loved ones, their families, their friends. But the miners may have some emotional scars as well. Let's go back to CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, getting back to normal won't be easy for these men.

TODD: Certainly will not be, Wolf. The two NASA doctors we spoke with, the doctors who've been to Chile consulted with officials there, tell us the miners will be studied closely for any warning signs. When they're air lifted, they'll be taken to this medical facility. When they're air lifted here, they'll be taken for checkups. In the weeks to come, psychologists will be looking for signs of difficulty concentrating, difficult sleeping, difficulty in small spaces or fear of the dark -- things that can trigger nightmares or claustrophobia, Wolf. Telltale signs that they'll keep a close look on these miners for.

BLITZER: As far as the reunions with the families are concerned, Brian, I'm sure they're all looking forward to the reunions but it also could be stressful.

TODD: That's right. We're going to show you some of the images of the miners' families as they wait for them here with real anxiety. We've been told they've been getting coaching to prepare for the re- entry into the real world, the miners we're talking about, and preparing them for reuniting with loved ones. The NASA psychologist told us there might be a mix match with the expectations what the miners have versus what their family has. A miner has a mental picture of what he wants to do when he sees the family again. He might also have some other expectations. Are they the same that the family has? Are they different? Psychologists will be on the lookout for warning signs like any detachment from the usual relationships they might have with their families -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Given the enormous interest not only in Chile but around the world, they'll face an onslaught of well wishers, celebrity, and a lot of fame.

TODD: That's right. They're preparing for that as well. Could you imagine psychological preparation for dealing with the media, don't answer that question. But we know they've been preparing for that and there have been swarms of media around the scene for weeks now. The miners asked for a book to read about how to deal with sudden fame. They may need to brace themselves. The NASA psychologist told us there's a risk that feel that everyone wants to, say, touch the magic. Everyone wants a piece of them. They may feel overwhelmed with the tidal wave of inevitable, interview requests from the media and book deal offers and the riches that could follow. It's going to be very difficult for them to deal with some of this stuff, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank god, we can only hope and pray they will all be on the surface in the next several hours and the day or so. We know the process will begin momentarily. Brian, don't go too far away.

Every one of the trapped miners has a remarkable story to tell. We're going to get to know the oldest of the group. He was about to retire -- and then came the cave-in.


BLITZER: These live pictures we're seeing. This is the scene at the top of the hour. The process will begin. Two individuals will go down the shaft that has been created and begin to bring those 33 miners back to the surface. They will be pulled one-by-one from a half a mile they are now beneath the surface.

As we get closer and closer, we want to get a little sense of who these men are. Let's bring in our senior Latin American affairs editor Rafael Romo. He's looking at one individual in particular. Tell us about him, Rafael.

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICA AFFAIRS EDITOR: Well, Wolf, we know their names and how they became trapped while working at a mine in northern Chile. But a closer look at their lives is very revealing especially when you hear from family members and significant others. Let's take a look at the life of the oldest of the trapped miners.


ROMO: Four sons, that's the legacy. Mario's a strong man, a loving father. His handwriting made him famous. His letters will be on the history books in Chile. He was the miner who wrote this message -- in English -- we're fine and the refuge, the 33 of us. Mario is the oldest of the miners trapped 700 meters under the earth. His story is perfect for a movie. The day of the accident, he was going to file the papers for his preretirement but he didn't because he was going to go to the mine and be able to drive one of the brand new trucks taken to the site. He's a passionate guy. He loved his jobs and loves salsa music. He enjoys life, but his health hasn't been at its best lately. He suffers from silicosis, a respiratory disease. Also, he lost three fingers from his left hand during another accident at the mines. He's a family man and his family already has plans for him.

ROMINA GOMEZ, MARIO GOMEZ'S DAUGHTER (through translator): As a family, we don't want him in a mine again. We're doing everything we can in order to buy a car, a taxi, something that doesn't make him a slave again.

ROMO: He had a hunch about the safety of his team at the mine and told his bosses about it. He wanted a new escape route. He knew that one day the earth was going to fall all over them.


ROMO: And the future of the mine where they made their living is uncertain. The accident has put the spotlight on mining conditions in Chile, and the pressure to improve safety measures is greater than ever -- Wolf?

BLITZER: As you say, the note from this 63-year-old miner, he helped save all of the others because it was 17 days, no one heard from them. They didn't know if they were trapped in this cave-in, if they were alive or dead. He wrote that note that they discovered and obviously it's resulted in this day and these moments right now. We're standing by for the breakthrough in the top of the hour. All right, Rafael, thank you very much.

We're going to learn more about some of the other miners as the continuing coverage of the breaking news goes on. The dramatic rescue of the 33 miners is about to start as I say at the top of the hour. We're going back, live, to the scene.


BLITZER: When the 33 miners are finally hoisted to safety, chances are nobody will be more happy to receive them than their own families. Many of whom are gathered at a place called "camp hope." Here is CNN's Gary Tuchman.

TUCHMAN: These are the tents where the family members of the miners are living and in many cases for weeks. This is Camp Espiranza. In English it means camp hope and this is a great place for them to be because it's expected that right down the road here is where their loved ones will be coming up shortly. I want to give you a look at the vantage point. They'll be walking down this path when the operation begins. You see the sign there that says to stop because the officers are guarding it right now, but behind those cranes, that's where the 33 miners are underground right now.

This area of camp hope has literally become a circus. There are actually clowns entertaining. It is rare that we have a cover story and we hope assuredly a happy ending. It is quite a rambunctious place. I want to give your an idea of how we made the best with the limited facilities we have in an area that generally had absolutely nothing but a mine. We are doing our live reports on top of rocks that have been set up. That gives you an idea of what we are dealing with here. This is a very Spartan area. In the hour-drive from the airport to get to this mine, there is absolutely nothing, no businesses whatsoever, no gas stations, no restaurants or hotels and now there are 2,000 people here and including 1,500 members of the news media. It is really quite a remarkable scene. This has been going on so long that literally a little red schoolhouse has been constructed for the children of the miners who have been here for many weeks. They are playing soccer right now in front of the little red schoolhouse, and here is a sign of many celebrations of miners' lives and this one says that god is in all places at the same time, you're family loves you. That is one of the miners underground. Across the way, another type of celebration has been built. These are flags, and 33 flags in front, and 32 from Chile and one from Bolivia where the miners are from. The mood is one of excitement, and everybody is so upbeat. The family members and everybody here hope there is excitement and happy a couple of days from now.

BLITZER: And we are excited as well. Within the next few moments the process will begin, and those 3 miners, one by one, will begin the half-mile journey to the top. Our continuing coverage of the breaking news will resume right after this.


BLITZER: These are live pictures from the scene. They are ready within the next few moments it will begin the rescue of the 33 miners and we are not leaving this story. A moment ago the president of Chile, Sebastian Pinera spoke.


PRES. SEBASTIAN PINERA, CHILE: Tonight the rescue operation is going to start, and we are hoping that the 33 miners will be all in the surface by Thursday.


BLITZER: We will get back to the coverage of the trapped miners momentarily, but back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: The question this hour relates to the midterm elections: Is it really okay for the Democrats when their own party members are running against President Obama?

Steve in Virginia says: "When politicians base their positions and platforms on the polls and the flavor of the month, then sure it is great for the Dems to run against their own president and much like the Republicans ran against George W. Bush in 2006 and 2008. Politicians don't run on personal principles or convictions, because it is now about whatever it takes to get re-elected."

Tom writes: "This running from the president should bother everyone, because it proves what cynics have been saying for a long time, politicians are there to support themselves. They will change directions, parties, whatever. They want to stay in office. Power, prestige, money -- must be a hard habit to break."

Simon writes from Florida: "Well, they certainly cannot run on their records. The Democrats' control of the Congress has been as big a disaster as the Obama presidency."

Karen in Idaho writes: "I would rather have a Congressperson who is honest enough to express his or her own viewpoint. What has ruined our government are people who cannot compromise, think for themselves or support the ideals of their constituents and who only vote a party line."

Melissa in Tennessee writes: "It's a good idea, sure. Be a proud Democrat when nobody is looking and be ashamed when someone asks what you have done."

Another Melissa writes: "Yes if they want. It does not mean they will get the vote though. Jack, I love how you try to skew things so they look bad just like the fear-mongering Republicans. Two years ago, you were an objective reporter until you realized that objectivity does not sell, so you started to try to cause trouble. I'm disappointed with you."

And Steve from Florida says: "Whatever it takes to keep from handing the matches back to the arsonists is fine by me. The end justifies the means and I'm sure that President Obama would say the same thing."

If you want the read more you will find it on my blog at -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Jack thank you.

Deep water drilling gets a go-ahead from the Obama administration. Kate Bolduan is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Hey, Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there Wolf, lots going on. Environmental groups are blasting the white house's decision to lift a six-month moratorium on deepwater oil drilling. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says there will always be risks, but he is confident that those risks have been reduced significantly. Operators have to undergo detailed inspections and show they can handle potential blowouts. The moratorium was put into place after the Deep Water Horizon rig exploded in April triggering the BP oil spill disaster.

And stunning words from the oldest son of North Korean ruler Jim Jong-Il. Kim Jong-Un says that he does not think that his family should hold on to power in the next generation. He was widely expected to follow his father as North Korea's leader until he fell out of favor and he says he does not care at all that his younger half brother is likely to gain power instead.

And NATO security forces are searching for a civilian cargo plane that has gone down in the mountains near Kabul. An Afghan ministry spokesman said that the eight people on the plane were killed. A source says the gun - Ghanaian owned aircraft took off from Bagram Air Base and was headed to Kabul's airport. The crash comes on the same day that a rocket-propelled grenade struck a NATO helicopter in northeastern Afghanistan killing an Afghan interpreter.

And in Hungary, crews are racing to finish three emergency dams to keep a second wave of toxic mud from pouring onto out of a ruptured industrial plant reservoir. Eight people died and dozens more were injured and hundreds evacuated after the reservoir gave way last week. Hungary's government has seized control for the company blamed for the disaster and the CEO is under arrest - Wolf?

BLITZER: Kate, thanks very much.