Sunday 23 July 2017

No food, water or medicine as quake death toll rises to 796

David Usborne in Concepcion

AS INTERNATIONAL aid finally began arriving in some of the smaller towns and port cities along the coastline of Chile that bore the brunt of the weekend's earthquake, they reported finding scenes of destruction worse and more desperate than some had ever encountered.

"I have never seen anything like this," said Paula Saez, a relief worker with World Vision who had only just returned from Haiti. She was reporting from Dichato, a small fishing town that like many others along the coast was hit first by the rattling of the ground that loosened buildings and moments later by an enormous tsunami that smashed homes or simply lifted them from the ground.

A measure of calm had returned to Concepcion after 14,000 soldiers were deployed to bring looting and civil unrest under control. The city -- where rescue workers were for a third day trying to extract survivors from a toppled apartment tower -- has also been under nighttime curfews.

The Chilean government, with help promised from neighbouring countries and the United Nations, was still calculating the enormity of trying first to get food, water and medical supplies to the worst-hit areas before contemplating the reconstruction effort. Among the most damaged cities is Talcahuano. As many as 180,000 are homeless in the port, with 10,000 homes uninhabitable and hundreds more destroyed, Mayor Gaston Saavedra reported last night. "The port is destroyed. The streets, collapsed. City buildings, destroyed."

Ms Saez confirmed that the ocean may have been responsible for much of the loss of life in coastal communities, where few dwellings and buildings were built to the strict anti-earthquake codes applied in Santiago. The death toll in Chile was raised again yesterday to 796 from 723 the previous night.

"There was a tsunami here; boats are in the middle of the city," Ms Saez said from Dichato. "The earthquake damaged some things but the sea took everything away. You can see chairs, tables, big fishing boats near to the hills... there is a house floating in the sea. There is no food, water, or medicine in this town."

The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, arrived in Santiago as part of her prearranged Latin American tour and delivered telecommunications equipment to help with the earthquake response. "We stand ready to help in any way that the government of Chile asks us to. We want to help Chile, who has done so much to help others," she said. (©Independent News Service)

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