Aid pours into Chile as aftershocks still threaten

10:17, March 05, 2010      

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Aid began to pour into Chile on Thursday as powerful aftershocks sent terrified people scrambling back to the hills in tsunami-prone coastal areas.

Relief materials worth 2 million U.S. dollars left China for Chile Thursday, according to sources with the National Defense Ministry.

The materials included 700 tents, 10,000 woollen blankets, 100 portable power generators and two water purification units.

The Chinese government also provided 1 million U.S. dollars in financial assistance Monday.

Venezuelan Interior and Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said his country had sent rescuers and experts, who had been working in Haiti after that country's earthquake on Jan. 12.

Venezuela would also send 7.2 tons of water and food, as well as 400 blankets to Chile, he said.

However, even as aid arrives, aftershocks are reigniting fear among the people. Three strong aftershocks jolted Chile Wednesday, four days after the 8.8-magnitude earthquake, sparking panic in the south American country.

An aftershock measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale struck late Wednesday following two aftershocks measuring 6.0 and 5.9 earlier in the day.

The death toll so far from Saturday's 8.8-magnitude earthquake was 802, Chilean Vice Interior Minister Patricio Rosende said Wednesday, adding the death toll could rise as rescuers uncovered more bodies.

Divers searched for bodies in debris-clogged waters off Chile's central coast Thursday. They expected to find more victims of the giant waves that swept hundreds to their deaths.

While thousands of Chilean troops largely managed to quell the looting that had followed the quake, many survivors in the hard-hit areas spent a tense night outside, after powerful aftershocks sent terrified people scrambling for the hills. Some even lit bonfires to ward off criminals.

President Michelle Bachelet called on people to stay calm. She said the country was not suffering a shortage of basic products.

"There is enough food, so we must keep calm in places where relief aid is being delivered," she said.

She said Chile was ready to recover.

"Chile can reply to this tremendous catastrophe because today we have better conditions ... We are in conditions to stand up again. This is a moment when we cannot be defeated by the adversity," Bachelet said after a meeting with local businessmen.

Reconstruction would take at least three to four years, Bachelet said on Thursday. Some estimates put the damage at up to 30 billion dollars.

She is in the final days of her presidency, with president-elect Sebastian Pinera, a 60-year-old multimillionaire entrepreneur, set to take over on March 11 for a four-year term.

She said Chile would need funds from international lending institutions to finance reconstruction.

"Chile has the resources for a number of actions but we will have to ask for credit from the World Bank and other entities," Bachelet said.

Meanwhile, Concepcion fire brigade officials have confirmed a Chinese man was among those killed by the quake in Chile's second biggest city.

According to the Chinese Consulate in Chile, the man, Nerso Lai, was in his forties and his father's nationality was Chinese. Lai was a cashier at a local hotel, which was wrecked when a nearby building collapsed onto it. The hotel owner, who was also Chinese, escaped four hours after the quake happened. However, Lai died in the rubble.

Source: Xinhua
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