(COPIAPO, Chile) -- UPDATE: The first 31 of 33 Chilean miners have ascended to freedom from the underground chamber where they've been entombed for 10 long weeks, the longest time ever for a successful rescue.
A cheer went up shortly after midnight as the first miner, Florencio Avalos, emerged from a rescue capsule wearing a helmet and sunglasses to protect his eyes from the nighttime lights at the San Jose Mine. Waiting on the surface were hundreds of family members and reporters who have stood vigil since the mine collapsed August 5.
Avalos, 31, hugged members of his family, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera and onlookers after emerging. He was then wheeled away on a stretcher to a triage area where the rescued miners are being assessed.
A second miner, Mario Sepulveda, 40, emerged from the rescue capsule around an hour later, and also was met with hugs all around, according to a live Chilean government television feed.
After hugging his wife, he reached into a bag and pulled out rocks, souvenirs of the mine that was his prison for more than two months. Sepulveda gave them to Chile's president and the rescue workers.
"I was with God and I was with the devil, but God won...at no point in time did I doubt that God would get me out of there," Sepulveda said in Spanish.
A third miner, Juan Illanes, 52, emerged shortly afterwards. He is a former soldier who encouraged the other miners to be disciplined.
Greeted by his wife, Carlos Mamani was brought to the surface next. The 23-year-old is married with one child. Once he got out of the stretcher he got down on his knees and said, "Thank you God."
Right after Mamani, the youngest of the 33 miners, Jimmy Sanchez, 19, emerged from the escape capsule. He had the most trouble coping with the tight confinements. "I have suffered much and do not want to suffer more," he said before taken away from the mine.
Osman Araya, 30, a father of two children, was removed next. Then came Jose Ojeda, 47. He has one child and served as a master drilling machine operator.
Claudio Yanez became the eighth miner to emerge after 7 a.m. local time. He was greeted with a long embrace from his fiancee.
After being pulled to the surface, the ninth miner, the oldest of the group, Mario Gomez, hugged his family as he stepped out of the rescue capsule. Before leaving the site, the 63-year-old dropped to his knees and prayed. Gomez suffers from silicosis, a lung disease caused by constantly breathing in silicone dust during his 50 years in the mines.
Authorities planned to pull one miner to freedom each hour, into the arms of waiting loved ones.
Avalos and Sepulveda were airlifted from the mine site and arrived at a hospital by ambulance. A small group of people outside the hospital were waving Chilean flags and chanting "Bienvenidos Mineros" or "Welcome Miners."
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