COPIAPO, Chile -- Carola Narvaez breathed in the Atacama Desert's cold dawn air and slowly began to exhale the story of how her family survived a devastating earthquake and worked to rebuild their lives, only for her husband to end up trapped deep inside a Chilean mine.
A tale of two disasters, Narvaez's account embodies the challenges still faced by the poor in Chile despite two decades as Latin America's economic darling. It is a story of incredible misfortune, unwavering faith and a love she said has only been strengthened by adversity.
Narvaez's husband, Raul Bustos, is a heavy-machinery mechanic whose skills always have been in demand. For years he has made a living repairing the equipment that rips copper, the lifeblood of Chile's economy, out of the earth, or helping build massive ships in ports along the nation's 4,000-mile coastline.
Six months ago Friday, the family was living in the port city of Talcahuano, 300 miles south of the capital, where Bustos was working for Chilean shipbuilder Asmar.
Like most Chileans, the couple were sound asleep when one of the most powerful earthquakes registered in a century struck the central coast Feb. 27.
What the earthquake did not knock down, the tsunami it triggered washed away. While the family's home survived, ships in Asmar's yards were pushed into the street and the builder's operations destroyed.
Having to support his wife and two small children, Bustos looked to northern Chile, where mines dot the barren lunar landscape. Two months later, he found his way to the San Jose mine, one of hundreds of midsize operations digging into the rocky, red earth in search of copper, gold and other minerals. Narvaez stayed behind with their children, 5-year-old Maria Paz and 3-year-old Vicente.
But when word arrived of the Aug. 5 collapse at the mine, Narvaez left the kids with her parents and rushed to the mine site, where she has camped out since. "In the earthquake, we just had to keep on living. We had our lives," Narvaez said as she sat in a tent camp just outside the gates leading to the copper and gold mine where Bustos is buried 2,200 feet underground. "This is the same. It is producing much anguish, isolation, fear. But we're alive. My husband is alive down in that mine, and we will have another happy ending."
Bustos and the 32 other miners, the most experienced of whom make about $1,000 a month, were trapped Aug. 5 by a massive collapse of the main access shaft, which corkscrews more than four miles into the mountain. They were cut off from the outside world for 17 days until Sunday, when rescuers sank a narrow bore-hole down to their shelter after seven failed attempts. Two additional bore-holes later were drilled.
Narvaez said Friday her hopes were further bolstered after seeing her husband on a 45-minute video the miners made with a small camera sent to them via one of the bore-holes.
Narvaez acknowledged that overcoming two disasters in six months was tough, but expressed optimism that rescuers will be able to free the men. Nor does she feel cursed.
"If it were bad luck, then there would be a bad ending," she said. "Neither of these disasters will have a bad ending."