Chile quake: Govt steps up aid as toll touches 800

Last Updated: Wednesday, March 3, 2010 - 10:50

Constitucion, Chile: Chile`s government used helicopters and boats to speed up the delivery of food to hungry survivors on Tuesday as the death toll rose to nearly 800 three days after a devastating earthquake and tsunami.
Chileans desperate for food and water swarmed soldiers as an army helicopter touched down in the ruined coastal town of Constitucion, which was hit by three giant waves set off by Saturday`s 8.8-magnitude earthquake.

The government dispatched more troops to restore order in Concepcion, Chile`s second-largest city, which was placed under curfew for 18 hours a day after looters raided stores and burned a supermarket.

There were no reports of major outbreaks of looting on Tuesday and President Michelle Bachelet said order had been restored in the city, which bore the brunt of the quake along with coastal towns that were also devastated by tsunamis.

Constitucion, with a population of nearly 40,000, accounts for nearly half of the official death toll, which Bachelet said had risen to 795. Surrounded by three hills, the city was turned into a ruin of flattened homes and toppled buildings. Wooden homes perched atop the hillsides were among the only buildings left standing.

Dozens of bodies were lined up on the floor of a makeshift morgue in a high school gymnasium, where people cringed at the pungent smell of death as they scoured a list of victims.

Officials estimated that between 100 and 500 people in the city are still missing.

Many Chileans complained that scores of deaths could have been avoided had the government responded faster to the earthquake, which set off a roaring tsunami a few hours later that killed many who had survived the quake.

"Nobody showed up around here to warn us," said Alejandra Jara, a 28-year-old resident of La Pesca, a small fishing village just north of Constitucion.

"We fled on our own because we know that when there`s a big earthquake, you have to leave everything and take off." Manuel Parra, who also ran for higher ground, was one of many residents whose seafront homes were washed off foundations. "Those who went inland up the hill survived. Those who didn`t are no longer here," said the 64 year-old.

The government has acknowledged that rescue efforts have been slow, in part because of mangled roads and power cuts. But officials also misjudged the extent of the damage, initially declining offers for international aid.

Bureau Report



First Published: Wednesday, March 3, 2010 - 10:50

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