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Disaster experts praise Chile quake response

Last Updated: Thursday, March 11, 2010 - 12:04

Santiago: President Michelle Bachelet leaves office Thursday with a chunk of her country in ruins — and her popularity in the clouds.

Despite complaints that aid was slow to reach the hungry and homeless, experts say Chile`s response to one of history`s most powerful earthquakes has been a model for disaster recovery.
At first, the problems were all too obvious: Chile`s navy and emergency preparedness office failed to issue a tsunami warning that might have saved hundreds of lives after the Feb. 27 quake, and Bachelet didn`t order soldiers to impose order in the streets until after looting had spun out of control.

But experts say other smart moves — like insisting that foreign help meet specific needs, quickly patching up roads and having the military handle logistics — made it possible to deliver 12,000 tons of relief in just 10 days.

And despite extensive damage to hospitals, few additional lives have been lost since the tsunami retreated, leaving at least 497 dead and hundreds missing.

Chile`s critical north-south highway was restored the day after the quake, with thick metal plates covering cracks, dump-truck loads of gravel filling collapsed pavement and more than a dozen fallen pedestrian overpasses quickly pushed aside. The patchwork repairs soon enabled an aid convoy of 100 tractor-trailers to make the eight-hour journey south from the capital to the most damaged cities.

"We were where we needed to be immediately," the socialist president said in a Chilean TV interview ahead of Thursday`s inauguration of conservative billionaire Sebastian Pinera.

It was frustrating to have to make decisions based on incomplete information, Bachelet said: Seismographs were knocked offline when the power went out, and the navy gave mixed signals on the tsunami. She said there was no hint looting would soon begin when she toured the disaster area hours after the quake. Chile clearly needs to improve its emergency communications and warning systems, she said.

Bureau Report

First Published: Thursday, March 11, 2010 - 12:04
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