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Chilean prez pleads for calm as aftershocks sow fear

Last Updated: Thursday, March 4, 2010 - 12:30

Concepcion: Chilean President Michelle Bachelet pleaded with Chileans on Wednesday to stop hoarding supplies and help with relief efforts, deflecting criticism that her government was slow to respond to one of the world`s most powerful earthquakes in a century.
Four days after the 8.8-magnitude quake killed more than 800 people in central Chile, police and troops have managed to quell looting and violence in the hard-hit city of Concepcion, which was rocked by back-to-back aftershocks that sent people fleeing to the hills fearing a new tsunami.

With tensions still running high in the disaster area, an emotional Bachelet broke into tears as she urged the population to remain calm in the face of Chile`s worst natural disaster in 50 years. She also sought to allay concerns of potential food and fuel shortages.

"There is enough food and therefore we must remain calm. There is also enough fuel, there is no risk of shortages," she said in a nationally televised speech.

Hours later, she took her message to the radio waves, calling on Chileans to band together to rebuild what has long been one of Latin America`s most stable economies.

"Be confident ... Chile is going to stand on its feet again," said Bachelet, a popular president who is in her last days in office.

The government raised the official death toll from the quake and ensuing tsunami along Chile`s coastline to 802, a number Bachelet said is sure to rise.

An 18-hour curfew remained in place in Concepcion, Chile`s second-biggest city, and 14,000 troops patrolled the streets in devastated areas to keep order and oversee aid distribution.

Military trucks and helicopters delivered food and water, while rescue crews searched coastal hamlets north of Concepcion for any survivors trapped in the debris.

In Constitucion, one of several coastal villages nearly wiped out by the disaster, some reports put the number of missing as high as 500. The town, with a population of about 40,000, accounts for almost half of the official death toll.

Bachelet asked Chileans to avoid stockpiling food so supplies could be distributed fairly. But the plea fell on deaf ears in Constitucion, where prices for foodstuffs such as flour and sugar have skyrocketed because of hoarding and looting.

Bureau Report

First Published: Thursday, March 4, 2010 - 12:30

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