By Jonathan Franklin
March 1 2010
Chile earthquake: Troops sent in to deter looting and violence
Armed soldiers are patrolling the streets to help quell unrest and protect shops and banks as the death toll rises to 723
Devastation in the Chilean port city of Talcahuanao by the tsunami and earthquake. Photograph: Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images
Armed troops today patrolled the streets of Chile for the first time in more than two decades as widespread looting in the south led President Michelle Bachelet to order 10,000 soldiers to protect supermarkets, pharmacies, banks and department stores.
Chilean National Television reported “neighbour versus neighbour” fighting in the coastal areas of Coronel and Lota as food shortages and lack of electricity caused by Saturday’s devastating earthquake created scenes of desperation.
By late this afternoon the news was filled with images of bands of men armed with rifles, metal stakes and hatchets stalking the streets of the coastal city of Concepción, attacking firefighters, torching a supermarket and adding an air of menace to the already tragic situation.
While life in the capital, Santiago, slowly returned to normal for most residents, Jacqueline van Rysselberghe, the mayor of Concepción, made a desperate plea for more troops and aid from the national government.
“We were distributing water in trucks and the trucks were assaulted. Now no one wants to distribute the water,” she said. “Fear is everywhere, armed men with pistols are attacking residential homes … send the largest number of troops possible.”
Smoke filled Concepción as looters burned a supermarket, and several firefighters were injured by falling debris.
In San Pedro de la Paz, a city next to Concepción, looters stripped a clinic clean of medicine and supplies.
“There was lots of shooting last night, then the military showed up,” said a resident, Rosa Medina, in an interview with TVN. Convoys of armed troops were sent to the region to provide logistical support, supplies and street patrols.
The government has raised the official earthquake toll to 723 killed and 19 missing, but reports from local communities suggest that hundreds more are missing, many feared washed out to sea. As rescue crews and journalists arrived at remote coastal areas, they found the heaviest damage was done by the tsunami that followed Saturday’s earthquake, flattening already fractured buildings. A Google application to find missing people registered more than 39,000 names.
Reports that six UK residents were missing from a hotel in the surf resort of Pichilemu have not been confirmed, the British embassy in Santiago said.
After initially saying that foreign aid would not be needed, Bachelet today asked the UN for aid.
Chilean officials called on the international community to donate temporary bridges, satellite phone equipment, water purification systems, dialysis machines and generators.
Field hospitals sent by the Brazilian and Argentine governments were expected to arrive tomorrow. Mariano Fernandez, the Chilean foreign minister, met foreign ambassadors to co-ordinate the aid. The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is due to arrive in Santiago tomorrow to meet Bachelet and discuss joint aid efforts.
Tens of thousands of Chileans built bonfires outside their homes and camped in the streets, afraid to live under damaged roofs and wary of looters. Many people housed their neighbours and volunteers brought tents and fresh water to families on the street, but patience wore thin as many survivors entered their third day without electricity, communications and fresh water.
Saturday morning’s 8.8 earthquake, one of the biggest ever recorded, hit southern Chile at the peak of the summer tourist season.
The coastal community of Constitución, home to 50,000 people, was packed with tourists for Noche Veneciana, a summer festival, when first the earthquake then waves estimated at 10 metres hit the town. Residents scoured the wreckage today for family members. Offshore, houses bobbed in the surf, testament to the near-complete destruction of the town.
In Concepción, rescue workers continued to dig through the rubble in an effort to reach survivors inside a 14-storey building that toppled over during the earthquake.
“I crawled through a hole, up a few metres. There was screaming. It was so dark, all I could see was a distant light,” said Alex Tapia, an Ecuadorean, who crawled from the remains of his sixth-floor apartment with his wife and child when the building collapsed. “We crawled out through that tunnel. People were trapped and yelling for help.”
An estimated 100 people are still inside the building.
Speaking outside the tangle of cement and steel, Commander Juan Carlos Subercaseux of the fire service said: “We have confirmation [that survivors exist] as someone broke glass. We can’t say how many are in there.”
In a grim effort to identify victims, firefighters placed a guitar, a saxophone and two laptops on the sidewalk and asked family members if they recognised them. More than half the apartments in the one-year-old building were empty, which lessened the death toll.
With autumn rains weeks away, officials scrambled to organise housing for the estimated 1 to 2 million Chileans who are homeless.
A limited air service began at Santiago’s international airport with a flight from Miami and Brazil landing this morning. Bus services inside Chile were limited as thousands of people attempted to head south in search of missing relatives. Source
Mar 1 2010
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Jonathan Franklin on the aftermath of the earthquake in Chile
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Chilean military takes control of quake-hit cities
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Chile earthquake: Two minutes of death and destruction – then tsunami hits a paralysed nation
Chile aid call as survivors found trapped
Chile called for international aid on Monday as rescuers located earthquake survivors crying out desperately through the rubble and troops arrested dozens in a bid to contain looting.
The toll from Saturday’s 8.8-magnitude quake and a resulting tsunami that swept coastal towns rose to 723 while security fears deepened in the South American nation’s second city of Concepcion, the worst-hit urban area.
Troops deployed alongside police and deputy interior minister Patricio Rosende said one person was shot and killed as they clamped down on rampant looting overnight, making 160 arrests.
As aid pledges rolled in from around the world, with the European Union offering four million dollars, Japan three million and China one million, Chile shed its earlier reluctance and said it would now accept outside help.
The UN’s humanitarian coordination office (OCHA) in Geneva said it had been sent a list of priorities that included field hospitals, mobile bridges, communications equipment and disaster assessment and coordination teams.
The circumstances of the death of the looter were unclear and Rosende said the overnight curfews — the first in Chile since the end of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship — had largely been obeyed.
“The public cooperated, it understood the need for a curfew. One has to understand the anguish that many people feel. Because on top of the constant aftershocks, there is the darkness, the uncertainty.”
After touring the disaster zone, President-elect Sebastian Pinera said “the situation is worse than expected” and recounted hearing cries for help when he entered a collapsed building not yet reached by rescue teams.
Rescuers with heat sensors and sniffer dogs picked through the debris of shattered buildings in Concepcion and special cameras showed three, perhaps four, survivors trapped in the twisted ruins of a 15-story apartment block.
“We’ll have to work with the precision of watchmakers,” said fire chief Juan Carlos Subercaseaux. “May God help us.”
Chile crews work to free survivors trapped by quake rubble
Another team worked to extract a fifth survivor from the building, knocked onto its back by the force of the quake. Eight bodies were pulled Sunday from the giant structure.
Injured people slept outside for a second night, rattled every so often by an aftershock — there have been a staggering 121 with a magnitude greater than 5.0 since Saturday’s quake, which was one of the most powerful ever recorded.
Rosende said the government had purchased all the food in the city’s big supermarkets so it could be distributed for free, and a barge and two Chilean air force planes would arrive later in the day with more supplies.
Pinera said the situation in Concepcion was dangerous: “When we have a catastrophe of this magnitude, when there is no electricity and no water, the population… starts losing the sense of public order.”
AFP witnessed looters setting fire to one supermarket, as people raking another store’s ruins said they were just people trying to look after their children.
“Water, I ask only for water,” said one young woman as she shook an empty plastic bottle.
The scale of the devastation was still being uncovered, especially in the seaside towns and villages engulfed by massive waves minutes after the gigantic quake struck at 3:34 am (0634 GMT).
Chile quake far bigger but less deadly than Haiti
State television reported that more than 300 bodies had been found in the swamped fishing village of Constitucion, where survivors stared in disbelief at the seaweed clinging to the remains of their homes and businesses.
The government’s national emergency response office said the central Maule region was the hardest hit with 544 fatalities and at least 19 others were still missing but didn’t break the figures down any further.
President Michelle Bachelet, due to hand over power to Pinera on March 11, said the air force had begun flying in food and aid to badly-hit areas, including some largely cut off by the quake.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in Montevideo at the beginning of a Latin America tour that will include a brief stop in Chile on Tuesday, said she had spoken with Bachelet and was bringing satellite telephones with her.
“They have asked for communications equipment, some of which I’m bringing on our plane. Other technical equipment will be flown there in addition.”
Chile, one of Latin America’s wealthiest nations, is better equipped than most to withstand earthquakes, but the damage has still been estimated at between 15 and 30 billion dollars, or between 10 and 20 percent of its GDP.