Two million people displaced by Chile Quake

10:08, March 01, 2010      

Email | Print | Subscribe | Comments | Forum 

Amid frantic rescue efforts and isolated outbreaks of looting, the Chilean president Sunday issued an order that will send soldiers into the streets in the worst-affected area to both keep order and speed the distribution of aid.

After huddling in a crisis meeting with her cabinet, President Michelle Bacelet called the damage caused by Saturday's magnitude-8.8 quake " an emergency unparalleled in the history of Chile" and suggested the death toll would likely spiral higher in the days ahead.

Police fired water cannons and tear gas to disperse hundreds of people who forced their way into shuttered shops in the southern city of Concepcion, which was devastated. But law enforcement authorities, heeding the cries of residents that they lacked food and water, eventually settled on a system that allowed staples to be taken but not televisions and other electronic goods.

President Bachelet later announced that the government had reached a deal with supermarket chains to give away food for free to needy residents. Her aides also called on residents not to horde gas or food, both of which was being bought up in huge amounts by residents fearful of shortages.

Using power saws and their bare hands, rescue workers atop the rubble of collapsed buildings tried to extract those caught inside. Although there were successes — like Julio Beliz, who managed to free his neighbor from the rubble in Santiago after hearing him yell out, "Julio, help me!" — search for survivors was frustratingly slow.

"It's very difficult working in the dark with aftershocks, and inside it's complicated," Paulo Klein, who led a group of rescue workers at a collapsed 15-story apartment building in Concepcion, told The Associated Press.

The magnitude-8.8 earthquake, one of the strongest in recorded history, left a devastating footprint on a country that knows quakes well.

In remote coastal towns, strong waves had obliterated homes, and boats were found on land, parked next to overturned cars. The authorities acknowledged that the damage was spread over such a vast area that they were just beginning to get a handle on it.
Early Sunday, a 6.1-magnitude aftershock, one of more than 100 that have followed the original quake, sent residents scrambling again for cover. With the earth still unsettled, many Chileans have opted to camp outside.

In Maipu, outside the capital, the authorities inspected an apartment building, found it relatively stable and allowed residents half an hour each to hustle inside and remove any personal belongings, local media reported. At another building nearby, however, the damages were considered too severe and the city told residents to stay out.

The National Office of Emergency raised the number of displaced people on Sunday to 2 million.

Among the quake's victims were Lurde Margarita Arias Dias, 24, and her infant child, Peruvian immigrants who were crushed as a wall toppled in their Santiago home.

"I tried to save them," Adan Noe Saavedra Rios, Lurde's husband, told local reporters with tears in his eyes. He described his frantic wife trying to rush from the house with their daughter in her arms after the ground started moving. Before he knew it, he recounted, they were covered in rubble.

At the hospital in Talca, near the epicenter, medical personnel were treating quake victims in the parking lot since the hospital building was considered structurally unsound. Other hospitals were also damaged, and President Bachelet said the military would set up field hospitals to treat the wounded.

Speaking at a midday news conference, Bachelet called on power distribution companies to work quickly to repair their networks so that services can be restored and the country can begin to get back on its feet. "We need energy first," she said, pointing out that cell phone communications, medical care and water distribution depended on it.

Bachelet said that the bulk of the known deaths, 541 of 708, took place in the Maule region, which is the country's leading wine-growing area along the coast, followed by Biobio, where at least 64 people died. The military will take charge of emergency operations in those two areas for the next month, she said. The government has imposed a limited curfew in those areas that forbids people from wandering the streets at night, but will not force them inside damaged buildings. Many people huddled by fires and slept outside Saturday night out of fear that more buildings would collapse.

Responding to outbreaks of looting in Concepcion, the local mayor, Jacqueline van Rysselberghe, had earlier called on federal officials to bring in the military to keep the tense situation from spinning out of control. She said it was not just desperate people who were cleaning out the stores but opportunists who were attempting to enrich themselves.

Despite ugly images of confrontation between police and residents, federal officials said that the traumatized country remained mostly calm. President Bachelet's order will mean 10,000 soldiers will help in the relief effort, Defense Minister Francisco Vidal said.

The scenes of toppled buildings, overturned cars and bodies being hauled from rubble resembled those from Haiti 40 days ago.

But because of better building standards and because the epicenter was farther from populated areas, the scale of the damage from Chile's significantly more powerful earthquake was nowhere near that suffered in Haiti, where more than 200,000 people are believed to have perished.

People's Daily Online/Agencies
  • Do you have anything to say?



Related Channel News

Special Coverage
Major headlines
Editor's Pick
  • Downtown Concepcion reduced to rubble, looting erupts
  • British Conservative leader vows to win general election
  • Manchester United lifts League Cup
  • Bayern grabs chance to climb on Bundesliga top
  • Tajikistan Lower House election starts
  • Violent storm lashes Germany, killing 3, suspending traffic
Most Popular
Hot Forum Dicussion