Chile rescues 79 survivors, Bachelet vows to crack down on looting

18:12, March 03, 2010      

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Rescuers on Tuesday pulled out 79 survivors and seven bodies from the debris of a collapsed building in earthquake-stricken Concepcion.

Firefighter commander Juan Carlos Subercaseaux told the press that six occupants of the building remain missing.

The eight-story building in downtown Concepcion, which was put into use last year and contains 80 apartments, was turned into a pile of rubble about three stories high by Saturday's 8.8 magnitude earthquake. Rescuers had feared that most of the trapped occupants might have been killed.

Subercaseaux, whose team just returned from Haiti, attributed the survival of such a large number of occupants to the quake-proof design of the building, which was able to keep space inside the rubble after the structure collapsed.

Concepcion, located on the Pacific coast in northwestern Chile, was the worst-hit city in the massive earthquake that has left nearly 800 people dead.

The Chilean government Tuesday extended an 8 p.m.-to-noon curfew to begin at 6 p.m. to crack down on looting in the city.

Authorities also added three towns, Talca, Cauquenes and Constitucion, to the curfew list to suppress looting in those areas.

President Michelle Bachelet said Tuesday that she will enforce "all the strictness of the law" on those responsible for looting and riots in the earthquake-hit regions.

"We have ordered to carry out with the necessary severity to prevent illegal actions from continuing to happen, and those who do not understand will receive all the strictness of the law," Bachelet said.

She added that the looting and other problems were the "criminal actions of small groups that are causing huge material and human damages."

"It cannot be tolerant that the firemen, who today are fulfilling important rescue works in Concepcion, have to use their resources to fight against a fire in a supermarket, where the goods are valuable resources for the people," Bachelet said.

She said temporary hospitals have been established, and the delivery of food, water, blankets and clothes to the most affected regions has started.

"People probably are always going to feel that we could have done things better," the president said. "But the reality is given the extent (of destruction), it will always be insufficient."

The Army and the Navy of Chile will deploy two frigates, one ship, 11,855 troops, 2,131 marines and 50 planes to provide assistance in the regions of Maule and Bio Bio.

Major supply companies in Chile said Tuesday there was enough food and water for the public as it struggles in the aftermath of the earthquake.

"The main suppliers in the country have necessary reserves and conditions to meet all the national demands," the Trade Union Association of the Supplier Industries (AGIP) said.

AGIP President Vasco Costa said his organization has launched contingency plans to deliver food and drinks according to the special needs of each regions.

The death toll rose to 796 on Tuesday and aftershocks continued to roll through the region.

The government said the number of affected people still stood at 2 million, or one-eighth of the country's total population. Most of the deaths were registered in the Maule region with at least 554 people dead. Some 92 deaths were registered at the Bio Bio region; 48 deaths in the O'Higgins province; 18 deaths in the city of Valparaiso; and 13 deaths in the region of La Araucania.

In the capital city of Santiago, which has a population of 6.2 million, 38 people were known to have died in the quake.

State television reported that more than 300 bodies have been found in a coastal fishing village that was swamped by huge tsunami waves immediately after the earthquake.

Damage from the earthquake so far has been estimated to be up to 30 billion U.S. dollars, or one-fifth of Chile's gross domestic product (GDP).

"I can only say it will be a lot," Bachelet said.

The earthquake and subsequent tsunami ravaged towns and cities along a 700-km stretch of Chile's Pacific coast. Downed bridges and damaged or debris-strewn highways made transit difficult if not impossible in many areas.

U.S. State Secretary Hillary Clinton arrived in Chile on Tuesday to offer relief assistance. She brought with her 20 sets of satellite telephones.

"We stand ready to help in any way that the government of Chile asks us to," Clinton said. "We want to help Chile who has done so much to help others."

Bachelet has asked for field hospitals, water purification systems, field kitchens, mobile bridges and electricity generators among other relief assistance from the international community.

"The government is expecting that these needs will be filled largely through bilateral arrangements and we need to stay within the parameters of what the country has asked for and not to send anything that they didn't ask for," UN deputy emergency relief coordinator Catherine Bragg said in New York.

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