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Troop influx reins in Chile looting

A member of the Chilean army stands guard as people queue outside of a superamarket to obtain food and provisions in Concepcion, Chile on March 3, 2010. The official death toll from Saturday's 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile and the tsunami it unleashed rose from 795 to 799 Wednesday, the national emergency office said. Among the confirmed deaths were 587 in the Maule region, south of Santiago; 92 killed in Bio Bio; 48 in O'Higgins; 38 in the capital's metropolitan area; 20 in Valparaiso and 14 in Araucania, the office said. Photo courtesy AFP.Food rations start reaching Chilean quake victims
Concepcion, Chile (AFP) March 3, 2010 - Food aid trickled Wednesday into quake-hit Chilean towns with chicken and bottles of drinking water bringing the first smiles after four days of hardship and a pervasive sense of insecurity. The authorities raced to overcome obstacles to distributing food and water to hundreds of thousands of people left homeless by Saturday's massive earthquake and the tsunami that swept in minutes later, killing nearly 800 people at last count. Soldiers, volunteers and civilian officials began organizing an orderly flow of food to the hungry Wednesday, easing pressures that sparked widespread looting and forced the government to impose a 6:00 pm to noon curfew. Soup kitchens and truckloads of food and water began appearing Tuesday on the streets of hard-hit Concepcion, the country's second largest city with 500,000 people.

"The distribution network is operational and the bulk of the aid is beginning to arrive," said Carmen Fernandez, head of the national emergency office. Authorities used the quiet hours to prepare for more extensive handouts when the curfew lifted on Wednesday in Concepcion, 500 kilometers (300 miles) south of Santiago. Curfews were in place in six other towns: Talca, Cauquenes, Constitucion, Curico, Molina and Sagrada Familia. A tally of the dead showed that the coastal communities were the most severely affected, battered by the quake and then struck from the sea by giant waves. In the town of Constitucion, where as many as a third of the 60,000 people are said to be without homes, army helicopters brought 2.5 tonnes of aid on Tuesday including canned tuna, tea bags, and milk.

The government of President Michelle Bachelet, criticized for moving too slowly to confront the disaster, has poured 14,000 troops into quake-struck regions to stop looting and help organize relief efforts. But outlying communities were among the last to be reached and the military said the full extent of the death and destruction was only gradually being revealed as its troops penetrated more isolated areas. Broken roads and bridges, disrupted rail links, and damaged port facilities have compounded the difficulties in delivering relief to the hungry and homeless. "The reconstruction task will be enormous," Bachelet said in an address to the country at the Chilean presidential palace. An important port, Huachipato, "was unusable" after it was hit by a tsunami. "The rail system is not working, neither are some industries such as the Huachipato steel complex, due to serious damage," she added. But pledges of international aid continued to roll in.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Tuesday with Bachelet to discuss aid needs and what Washington could offer: field hospitals, water purification units and satellite telephones. The Organization of American States on Wednesday declared its full backing for the relief efforts in Chile, both short and long term.
by Staff Writers
Concepcion, Chile (AFP) March 3, 2010
Thousands of troops sent in to quell unrest restored calm Wednesday in Chile's second largest city with the help of a strict curfew, four days after a massive earthquake and tsunami.

The government raised the toll from Saturday's 8.8-magnitude quake to 799, as soldiers patrolled overnight on the streets of Concepcion to stop rampant looting and isolated acts of arson that threatened to ruin Chile's hard-earned reputation for stability.

President Michelle Bachelet has deployed 14,000 troops to the disaster zone to stem violence and help distribute food and medicines around the city of Concepcion and coastal towns where giant waves swept away whole communities.

"Most of the bodies are badly bloated and mutilated, difficult to identify. The stench is terrible," said an army lieutenant in the seaside resort of Constitucion. "We're expecting more."

The handwritten list on a large white board propped against the morgue fence showed 78 dead from the tsunami that razed low-lying areas of this Chilean seaside resort, a holiday paradise before disaster struck.

Sobbing relatives visited the morgue to try and identify the swollen remains of family members. Among the bodies were seven unidentified corpses in advanced stages of decomposition -- listed as "NN", or "No Name".

The toll in coastal areas from the three giant waves that crashed in from the Pacific in the early hours of Saturday is rising steadily. The previous evening, it stood at 51 in Constitucion.

Authorities raced to help thousands made homeless and hungry and scrambled to defuse an explosive situation in cities and towns where gangs of looters had roamed the streets after one of the strongest earthquakes ever measured.

Under curfew and with thousands of troops on the streets, Chile's quake-struck second city spent a night without looting and lurched toward normal with restoration electric power and water in some areas.

Traffic lights blinked on and neon signs came back to life as electric power returned to some parts of Concepcion, a city of about 600,000 people located some 500 kilometers (310 miles) south of Santiago.

One of the area's biggest supermarkets announced it would be opening its doors on Wednesday, as other businesses and stores assessed conditions at their facilities with an eye to reopening.

With armored military vehicles guarding strategic points, food rations were being distributed in orderly way, easing public anxiety over the isolation caused by the quake.

The government extended a curfew from 6:00 pm to noon Wednesday and flooded the city with thousands of troops to restore order in the aftermath of the quake, one of the biggest on record.

Similar curfews were also imposed on six other towns badly damaged by the quake, which is said to have affected two million Chileans, or one-eighth of the population.

Chile's president-elect Sebastian Pinera, who takes office March 11 amid the country's worst natural disaster in decades, said Tuesday that the unrest caused by looters was "absolutely unacceptable."

"It simply worsens the already catastrophic situation we're in," he said, adding his support for Bachelet's efforts to restore order, which have come in for criticism.

"This is not the time to evaluate the performance of the government. This is not the time to cast blame... This is the time to provide solutions, and evaluations can come later."

Despite being one of Latin America's richest countries, Chile has struggled to cope with the scale of the disaster and appealed for outside aid as it worked to help survivors.

The death toll was expected to rise sharply as relief teams reached more isolated areas, including fishing villages and resorts wrecked by the huge waves.

"The tsunami affected 200 kilometers (124 miles) of coastline, at places sweeping 2,000 meters inland," General Bosco Pesse, who is running emergency operations in the Maule region of a quarter million people, told AFP Tuesday.

"Some 600 people died in this area, but the toll could climb to 1,000."

The situation appeared critical in coastal villages and seaside resorts such as Pulluhue, Cobquecura, Dichato and Constitucion, where tsunami waves obliterated homes and left hundreds dead or missing.

Chilean television showed two army helicopters touching down Tuesday in Constitucion with 2.5 tonnes of aid including canned tuna, tea bags, and milk.


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Chileans grow impatient for aid in isolated towns
Constitucion, Chile (AFP) March 3, 2010
Chileans in areas isolated by a massive earthquake and tsunami were Wednesday growing impatient for aid, slow to reach many devastated towns and villages four days after the disaster. "In the countryside, we have received nothing," said Juana Rodriguez, who lives in Puerta Verde, a hamlet of 36 families located eight kilometers (five miles) from Constitucion. "We need water, diapers, mil ... read more

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