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Chile begins mourning quake dead

Last Updated: Sunday, March 7, 2010 - 13:30

Santiago: Flags were set to be lowered across Chile on Sunday as the country began a three-day period of national mourning for the hundreds of victims of the massive earthquake.
But more than a week after the devastating 8.8-magnitude tremor that hit central Chile on February 27, officials were still struggling to establish an accurate death toll.

The official toll was initially set at 802 people, but that was subsequently revised down to 452 confirmed deaths after it was discovered that in some areas people who were simply missing had been listed as dead.

Emergency workers, meanwhile, were struggling to cope with additional problems caused by a series of strong after-shocks as well as dealing with the devastation wrought by the original quake.

Some half a million homes were destroyed by the earthquake and sanitary conditions for many still living on the streets have become a growing concern.

"We have cases of gastroenteritis, respiratory problems, and we`ve had heart problems due to fears caused by recent aftershocks," doctor Carlos Barra, working in a health centre near Concepcion, said.

But despite all the devastation, life was slowly beginning to return to normal.

Vaccinations against hepatitis and tetanus had started in the town of Constitucion, said Deputy Interior Minister Patricio Rosende.

The authorities shortened a curfew from 18 to 13 hours in the city of Concepcion on Saturday, and reduced curfews in Arauca, Nuble and Biobio provinces.

Police detained scores of people in Concepcion overnight for ignoring the curfews that had been declared as tensions flared immediately after the quake and looting became widespread.

Helped by tip-offs from local residents, police said they had recovered thousands of possessions, including plasma TVs, washing machines and furniture.

Rescue workers in the coastal city on Saturday called off their search for a 26-year-old man still missing in the remains of the 15-storey building where 12 people had died.

President Michelle Bachelet deployed 14,000 troops in the wake of the disaster, in a move unprecedented since the 17-year military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, which ended in 1990.

She is due to hand over the presidency to Sebastian Pinera, a multi-millionaire right-wing businessman, on Thursday.

Despite being considered a model of stability in Latin America, Chile has struggled to cope with the scale of the catastrophe, with Bachelet`s government under fire for its slow response.

Bureau Report

First Published: Sunday, March 7, 2010 - 13:30

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