Chile troops sent to quell post-quake unrest; toll at 723

Last Updated: Tuesday, March 2, 2010 - 11:13

Concepcion, Chile: Angry and hungry Chileans set fire to shops in the quake-hit city of Concepcion Monday as President Michelle Bachelet rushed 5,000 extra troops to the disaster zone to maintain order.
Huge flames and clouds of black smoke billowed out over Chile`s second largest city even as rescue teams picked through the debris to try to reach survivors whose anguished cries could be heard through the rubble.

The toll from Saturday`s 8.8-magnitude earthquake and the resulting tsunami that swept central and southern coastal towns rose to 723 as security fears deepened in Concepcion, the worst-hit urban area.

Troops deployed alongside police and deputy interior minister Patricio Rosende said one person was shot and killed as they clamped down on rampant looting overnight, making 160 arrests.

"When we take account of the troops already in Biobio and Maule there will be by tomorrow 7,000 troops deployed," said Bachelet, as she stepped up efforts to crackdown on the looting and arson.

The UN`s humanitarian coordination office (OCHA) in Geneva said it had been sent a list of priorities that included field hospitals, mobile bridges, communications equipment and disaster assessment and coordination teams.

After touring the disaster zone, President-elect Sebastian Pinera said "the situation is worse than expected" and recounted hearing cries for help when he entered a collapsed building not yet reached by rescue teams.

Rescuers with heat sensors and sniffer dogs picked through the debris of shattered buildings in Concepcion and special cameras showed three, perhaps four, survivors trapped in the twisted ruins of a 15-story apartment block.

"We`ll have to work with the precision of watchmakers," said fire chief Juan Carlos Subercaseaux. "May God help us."

Injured people prepared to sleep out for a third night, still rattled every so often by aftershocks. A staggering 121 with a magnitude greater than 5.0 have come since Saturday`s quake -- one of the most powerful ever recorded. Related article: `God help us:` rescue worker at collapsed Chile building

Rosende said the government had purchased all the food in Concepcion`s big supermarkets so it could be distributed for free, and a barge and two Chilean air force planes were expected later with more supplies.

But Pinera said the situation in Concepcion was dangerous: "When we have a catastrophe of this magnitude, when there is no electricity and no water, the population... starts losing the sense of public order."

Police and troops stood guard trying to hold back the looters, fanning anger among the crowd.

"It would be fine if they distributed things, or at least sold them to us," grumbled Carmen Norin, 42. Anger soon mounted and AFP witnessed looters setting fire to a supermarket and a department store. A volunteer fireman was injured as the roof collapsed while others doused a man who emerged screaming and covered in flames.

Nothing appeared off limits to angry mobs desperately hunting provisions as even fire stations were ransacked and a medical clinic was pillaged at San Pedro de la Paz, outside Concepcion.
Bureau Report



First Published: Tuesday, March 2, 2010 - 11:13

More from zeenews

 
comments powered by Disqus