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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