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19 miners saved after earthquake traps them deep underground

Nineteen miners in Poland were rescued from a mine after being trapped underground by a small earthquake. NBCNews.com's Dara Brown reports.

POLKOWICE, Poland -- Nineteen miners were pulled alive and well from a copper mine in southern Poland on Wednesday after a small earthquake trapped them almost 2,000 feet below the surface late Tuesday.

It took seven hours to tunnel through collapsed rock to reach the miners, who were working at the Rudna copper mine in southern Poland when a small tremor trapped them there at 10:09 p.m. local time (5:09 p.m. ET) on Tuesday.

Agencja Gazeta / Reuters

Families react to the news Wednesday that 19 miners were rescued after a small earthquake trapped them some 2,000 feet below the surface at the Rudna copper mine in southern Poland.

Two were treated for minor injuries, while the others, shaken up and covered with grime after a grueling night, were on their way home.

Families of the miners, who gathered near the site, cheered when the mine's operator, KGHM, announced that all 19 were alive and were slowly being taken out through a hole dug by the rescuers.

"This was the biggest accident in KGHM history," chief executive Herbert Wirth told Reuters. "Never in our history has it happened that 19 miners were trapped with no contact."

The Rudna mine is about 250 miles southwest of the Polish capital, Warsaw.

Kacper Pempel / Reuters, file

KGHM Polkowice-Sieroszowice copper ore mine is seen in Polkowice in this July 29, 2011, file photo. Nineteen miners were trapped there Tuesday night after an earthquake caused a collapse. All were saved.

After the quake on Tuesday, workers on the surface lost contact for several hours with the trapped miners because communication lines into the shafts had been severed.

The mine is in the Silesia region, near Poland's borders with Germany and the Czech Republic. It has been in operation since 1974. State-controlled KGHM is Europe's second-biggest copper producer.

Poland has large numbers of mines, mostly in the heavily industrialized Silesia region. In 2006, a gas explosion at a coal mine in the region killed 23 miners.

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