Hillary Clinton visits quake-hit Chile
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Last Updated: Wednesday, March 03, 2010, 15:48
  
Santiago: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brought satellite phones and offers of further US assistance to quake-struck Chile on Tuesday, comforting Chilean President Michelle Bachelet with a hug on arrival.

"We stand ready to help in any way that the government of Chile asks us to," said Clinton, who spent a few hours in Santiago as part of a regional tour. "The United States will be there to help when others leave," she vowed.

Clinton brought 20 satellite phones as an initial US contribution, telling Bachelet, "that was the one thing we could get on the plane right away," as the pair embraced and clasped hands in a special airport reception area.

Chile has been in crisis since Saturday's massive quake with Bachelet ordering thousands more troops to the disaster zone to try to keep a lid on rampant looting, even as rescuers hunted survivors in the rubble.

The 8.8-magnitude quake and resulting tsunami killed almost 800 people, according to the latest toll, and affected an estimated two million of the country's 16 million population.

After initially being reluctant to accept outside help, Bachelet issued an appeal for aid on Monday as it became clear that the South American nation was in desperate need of outside assistance.

The United States planned to send eight water purification systems, a mobile field hospital, dialysis machines, generators, portable bridges, kitchens and helicopters, Clinton said, adding that search-and-rescue teams were on standby.

Standing later alongside President-elect Sebastian Pinera, who takes over from Bachelet next week, Clinton said she had no doubt well-prepared Chile was "on the road to an even better recovery in the future."

Asked at the airport about the estimated overall cost of the tragedy, Bachelet said it was too soon to know for sure. "I could not answer for you how much it would cost to rebuild, to reconstruct, all this damage.

"Chile has the capacity: We have the engineers, we have the people, we have the experience, we have people trained and all that. But I think it will take long, and it will mean a whole amount of money.

"I can only say, it will be a lot," she added, speaking in English.

Asked how her country would finance the massive reconstruction effort, Bachelet said she doubted that Chile would have difficulty securing funds. "Chile is a net creditor, so we think we could be able to also receive good credit from whatever, the World Bank," she said, adding that issues of financing would likely have to be dealt with by Pinera.

In Washington, US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters that an estimated 18,000 Americans were in Chile at the time of the disaster, but that he had not heard of any American fatalities.

Aid pledges poured into Chile from around the world Monday after the government made its first requests for help as the rising death toll from the devastating earthquake reached 795.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva became the first foreign leader to visit quake-hit Chile on Monday, after learning the damage -- much of it on the coast from a massive tsunami -- was far worse than feared.

The quake comes six weeks after a massive temblor flattened the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince and forced Clinton to call off an Asian tour when she was in Hawaii. On January 17, Clinton made a brief visit to Port-au-Prince airport to consult with Haitian President Rene Preval, five days after the quake struck and killed more than 220,000 people in the impoverished Caribbean country.

Bureau Report


First Published: Wednesday, March 03, 2010, 15:48


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