The 33 miners trapped in a collapsed mine in Chile have been told that it could take months before they are rescued.

Chilean Health Minister Jaime Manalich said the miners were told they would not be rescued before the Fiestas Patruas, Chile’s Independence Day celebration on Sept. 18. He said they were told rescue crews are hoping to get them out before Christmas.

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Relatives and journalists watch new images of the trapped miners in Copiapo, Chile. ((Roberto Candia/Associated Press))

According to the AFP news agency, Manalich said the miners reacted calmly to the news.

"We have to make sure the miners are physically and psychologically fit," he said. "If they lose their mental balance, it could create panic and violence down there, and that would be a huge catastrophe."

The miners were found to be alive Sunday after being trapped deep underground for 17 days. They are suffering from dehydration and have lost around 10 kilograms each.

The miners have reported that they fed themselves with cans of tuna, milk and biscuits stored in the shelter where they took refuge after the mine's main tunnel collapsed.

Rescuers have been able to drill narrow holes to the shelter to deliver supplies, establish communications and allow fresh air inside.

A camera has been sent down, and videos and other entertainment equipment will be sent to help allay boredom.

Farmer Wilson Avalos, whose two nephews are trapped in the mine, told Reuters news agency that he is selecting soccer videos to send.

"We will send them videos of Diego Armando Maradona,  Ronaldinho and Pele, because they are huge soccer fans," Avalos  said. "I'm sure that will really help them keep their spirits up."

Government plans exercise, games

Manalich said officials are planning exercise and other activities to keep the miners healthy and trim, using some of the passages that remain accessible to the miners.

"We hope to define a secure area where they can establish various places — one for resting and sleeping, one for diversion, one for food, another for work," Manalich said.

He said establishing a daily and nightly routine is important, as is having fun. The rescue team is creating an entertainment program "that includes singing, games of movement, playing cards," he said.

"We want them to record songs, to make videos, to create works of theatre for the family."

Officials are trying to ensure the miners don't bulk up before their rescue. They say the miners will have to be no more than 35 inches around the waist to make it out of the tunnel.

The escape tunnel will be about 66 centimetres wide — the diameter of a typical bike tire — and stretch for more than 700 metres through solid rock.

The gold and copper mine is owned by local mining firm San Esteban Primera.

With files from The Associated Press