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Army halts looters in Chile as quake death toll tops 700

TENS of thousands of troops were scrambled to stop looting in the devastated coastal towns of Chile today as the death toll from the massive earthquake rose sharply to 711.

President Michelle Bachelet said the number of fatalities was certain to rise.

Many people are still missing, hundreds of thousands of families have been left homeless and some communities in the worst-hit central region of the South American country are still largely cut off by mangled roads.


Surging waves ruined houses and smashed cars in fishing villages on the country's long Pacific coast after Saturday's 8.8 magnitude quake.

In the town of Constitucion alone, about 350 people died, state TV quoted emergency officials as saying.

A night-time curfew went into effect in the Maule region and the heavily damaged town of Concepcion, where hundreds of looters ransacked stores for food and other goods.

Looting also broke out in parts of the capital, Santiago.

"We don't have water or anything. No one has appeared with help and we need more police to keep order. There are many people here who are robbing," said a 78-year-old woman who identified herself as Ana in the badly hit city of Talca, 250km south of Santiago.

In Concepcion, angry survivors camping along roads took out their frustration on firefighters who were distributing drinking water in thermoses and tea kettles, damaging their vehicles.

Copper prices surged in early trading today due to supply worries, jumping 5.6pc to $7,600 per tonne on the London Metal Exchange.

The markets may now help clarify the extent of the economic impact on Latin America's most developed country and the world's biggest copper exporter.


The damage from the quake could cost up to $30bn (€22bn), equivalent to about 15pc of Chile's gross domestic product, said Eqecat, a firm that helps insurers model catastrophe risks.

Chile's biggest copper mines affected by the quake slowly resumed operations, but analysts said limited power supplies could curtail exports and push up copper prices further.

Chile's fourth-largest copper mine El Teniente, which accounts for more than 7pc of national output, resumed operations yesterday.

The nearby Andina mine was also due to resume operations but analysts feared power outages could still affect output.

The Anglo-American Los Bronces mine also resumed production, a union leader told Reuters, but there was no word on when the company's El Soldado mine would restart.

Santiago's airport started to receive international flights, which had been suspended after the quake.

Officials said the runways were unscathed but the terminal building was damaged.

Analysts said Chile's peso currency was likely to come under selling pressure as investors assess the impact on what is considered Latin America's best-run economy.

Some economists have predicted a deep impact on Chile's economy after the quake damaged its industrial and agricultural sectors in the worst-hit regions.