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Saturday 25 November 2017

Helicopters bring hope in chaotic scramble for aid

Mario Naranjo in Concepcion

Chile's government used helicopters and boats to step up food aid to desperate survivors yesterday as the death toll rose to nearly 800 three days after the devastating earthquake and tsunami.

Chileans desperate for food and water swarmed soldiers as an army helicopter touched down in the devastated coastal town of Constitucion, which was hit by three giant waves set off by Saturday's massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake.

The government dispatched more troops to restore order in the country's second-largest city, Concepcion, which was placed under curfew for 18 hours a day after looters raided stores.

President Michelle Bachelet insisted that order had been restored in the city, which bore the brunt of the quake along with coastal towns that were also devastated by tsunamis.

Constitucion, with a population of nearly 40,000, accounts for nearly half of the official death toll, which Bachelet said rose to 795. Surrounded by three hills, the town was turned into a ruin of flattened homes and toppled buildings.

Dozens of bodies were lined up on the floor of a makeshift morgue in a high-school gymnasium, and officials estimated that between 100 and 500 people were still unaccounted for.

"Nobody warned us. We just heard the ocean and ran for the hills," said Raquel Pena (58).

"There was no warning from the police or the navy. They jumped in their trucks and drove off." The government has said rescue efforts have been slowed by badly damaged roads, fallen power lines and, in some areas, violence.

Some people armed with sticks and shotguns banded together to protect their stricken homes and many complained that government food aid and other supplies were arriving too slowly.

But the human and economic cost could have been a lot worse given the size of the quake, one of the world's biggest in the past century.

Irish Independent

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