Sunday 22 October 2017

Troops deployed on streets to quell riots and looting

Police officers pass a destroyed building in the town of Constitucion, Chile, yesterday
Police officers pass a destroyed building in the town of Constitucion, Chile, yesterday

Gideon Long in Santiago

WHEN THE earth began to buckle, Alberto Rozas instinctively grabbed his seven-year-old daughter and waited in the bathroom for it to be over.

The newly built tower fell like an oak in a gale, plunging father and daughter an equivalent of 13 storeys to the ground.

"The earthquake and the fall were one single, horrible thing," said Rozas recalling the moment the Rio Alta Tower toppled and the seconds when he and his daughter, Fernanda, were falling through space. "I held on to her and she never let me go."

When the 70-unit building stopped plunging, and floors had become vertical walls, Rozas saw moonlight through a shattered window. He and his daughter were able to crawl to safety with little more than scratches.

The pair are among 25 people to have emerged from the building alive. But the rescue effort continued at the tower block in the city of Concepcion, with emergency workers racing to try to find as many as 50 residents still thought to be inside.

Yesterday, aside from the devastation of collapsed homes, roads and bridges, the Chilean authorities were getting a fuller understanding of the destruction caused by the tsunami that roared into coastal towns and villages about 30 minutes after the quake itself.

It tore homes from their foundations and left boats stranded inland in streets and town squares.

The Chilean National Emergency Office said the official death toll had risen to 723, with 19 others missing, but warned it could go higher still.

Troops

While rescue efforts remained a top priority in Concepcion, the government was also moving quickly last night to quell looting and civil unrest there, and in other towns such as Dichato, Iloca and Llo-Lleo, with the assistance of army troops deployed by President Michelle Bachelet.

A dusk-to-dawn curfew in the Bio Bio region, first imposed on Sunday, was to be repeated last night, officials said, in an effort to maintain order.

The Mayor of Concepcion, Jacqueline Van Rysselberghe, reported that the town was ready to begin distributing food rations to all of its residents.

The hope was that by ensuring food supplies, the rampages into supermarkets, seen earlier, would subside.

The mayor, nonetheless, said there would be more banditry in her town without a greater influx of soldiers.

The Chilean government, meanwhile, formally asked the UN for help.

UN spokesperson, Elisabeth Byrs, said Chile was seeking temporary bridges, field hospitals, satellite phones, electric generators, damage assessment teams, water purification systems, field kitchens and dialysis centres.

The international Red Cross, said volunteers were providing first aid in the areas that werehardest hit, and that it was appealing for donations within Chile. (©Independent News Service)

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