September 1st, 2010
06:36 PM ET

In mine's confines, survival instincts prevail

Madison Park

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/HEALTH/09/01/health.chile.miners/story.chile.flags.gi.jpg caption="The row of national flags outside the mine represent the 33 trapped miners in Copiapo." width=300 height=169]

(CNN) - The health of 33 trapped Chilean miners is authorities' top priority as crews this week began drilling in an effort to free them.

The men have been trapped 2,300 feet underground since a rockslide cut off their exit route on August 5.

Drillers could take three to four months to reach the subterranean chamber, Chilean authorities have estimated.

Humans can survive in extreme environments, such as the 540-square-foot space the men share. But this kind of prolonged confinement with darkness, crowding and lack of sanitation can take a heavy physical toll.

Despite such adversity, humans are remarkably resilient and adaptable, health experts said.

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