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Only the wealthy able to buy food in quake crisis

Chile is struggling to maintain order as food supplies fail to reach earthquake victims despite 14,000 troops fanning out across the earthquake zone.

A curfew in the country's second city of Concepcion has been extended to 18 hours of the day, while in the city of Talca, to the north, police are maintaining fragile order at one of the few functioning supermarkets by letting in only those who look able to pay for food.

"People without money to pay, they were shaking the door, they broke the glass," said the Lider store manager Maria Isabel Larrain (47).

"They were very angry. It was very dangerous. You can tell by looking at somebody if they have money."

A woman outside the store window reached her hands out, pleading for food. "You see?" Ms Larrain said. "People from the favela [slum], they steal. They want it all for free."

Alejandra Orellana (27) who had been waiting for half an hour, said: "The Government should be doing much more. If you live in a favela, in a house made of wood, you have real problems."

Stores belonging to the same chain in Concepcion and Coronel have also been looted. From the company's headquarters in Santiago, Jose Ignacio Garcia, a personnel manager, said that staff had handed out some free food. "They should ask the authorities, but we had to relieve the tension. They have been taking too long."

President Bachelet had declined aid before the full extent of the earthquake, which has killed at least 795 people, became clear.

Yesterday she said that she understood the "urgent suffering" but that looting was "a criminal act that will not be tolerated". She rejected criticism that her government's response had been slow.


"There are always going to be people who say that things can be done better," she said.

Much of the old centre of Talca is in ruins. Security forces control access to the hospital, 70pc of which was destroyed.

Last week it had 600 beds, now only 150 are available for the influx of earthquake victims.

Miriam Valenzuela Penazola, a nurse, was working when the earthquake struck on Saturday.

"The movement was very violent, I went outside and saw the masonry begin to fall. We moved the patients to the street. Thirty minutes after the quake, the injured began to come in," she said.

With the exception of a few streetlights, electricity has yet to return to Talca. A local radio station, Radio Paloma, has become an unofficial community centre. Outside the station a crowd gathered, asking for announcements to be read out on the air for missing relatives.

Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, arrived in Chile yesterday with 20 satellite phones as an initial US contribution and promised more equipment, including a mobile field hospital, kitchens and helicopters.