Death toll rises in Chile earthquake, curfew extended

08:42, March 03, 2010      

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The death toll in the 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile early Saturday morning continued to rise in the latest official figure released Tuesday, and the authorities extended the length and scope of a curfew to maintain social order.


Chilean military officers search survivors in the debris in Concepcion on March 2. The death toll in the devastating earthquake has risen to 795, according to the latest official statistics. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)


Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said that the death toll from the devastating earthquake had reached 795. Local media reported that Bachelet was speaking during a visit to Curico, one of the hardest-hit cities in the quake.

The president's figure was 32 higher than that released by the country's National Office of Emergency earlier in the day.

According to the office, the number of affected 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.

The authorities extended a curfew on the town of Concepcion from 15 hours to 18 hours until Tuesday noon, and added three towns, Talca, Cauquenes and Constitucion, onto the curfew list to suppress looting.

Raping and violent activities have increased following the quake, which has disrupted power and water supply in some hard-hit areas.

During the last few days, the lack of power, drinking water and food caused panic among residents in Concepcion, triggering looting in supermarkets and food stores.

The situation in the city quickly deteriorated to the point that stores were looted even with the presence of the owners.

Angry survivors set fire to shops after looting their contents in Concepcion, Chile's second largest city, and other towns along the coast.

So far one person got killed while 160 people were detained by troops and police, according to Deputy Interior Minister Patricio Rosende.

President Bachelet said the government had increased to 14,000 the number of troops dispatched to patrol restive areas. She appealed to the public for calm amid widespread looting.

"We understand your urgent suffering," said Bachelet, "but we also know that these are criminal acts that will not be tolerated."

The troops in quake-hit areas have also been assigned the job of distributing relief materials.

Residents slept out for a third night in Concepcion, still rattled by aftershocks. There were more than 120 aftershocks with magnitudes greater than 5 on the Richter scale since Saturday.

The deputy interior minister said that the government had purchased all the food in Concepcion's main supermarkets so that it could distribute food for free and that more supplies were being shipped in from elsewhere.

State television reported that more than 300 bodies had been found in a fishing village along the coast where it was swamped by huge tsunami waves immediately following the earthquake.

Quake-caused damages to Chile are so far estimated to be up to 30 billion U.S. dollars, or a fifth of the country's gross domestic product.

Chilean civil aviation authorities announced Tuesday that the flights flow has been normalized gradually at Santiago's international airport Arturo Merino Benitez.

The General Direction of Civil Aeronautics (DGAC) of Chile said the improvement should be attributed to "the coordination and the wills" of related services, including police, customs, services of agriculture and livestock, the concessionaire of the terminal and several companies operating at the airport.

The normalization of flights flow was achieved one day earlier than predicted by the DGAC.

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

Clinton arrived from Argentina where she paid a visit after including the country to her itinerary in the ongoing Latin America tour.

"One of the biggest problems has been communications," said Clinton at the airport, "They can't communicate into Concepcion and some of the surrounding areas."

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

Source: Xinhua
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