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Americas

Chile appeals for international help as army tackles looters

Video by Nicholas RUSHWORTH

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-03-02

Chile appealed for international aid and deployed military reinforcements Monday, bringing the number of troops present to 7,000. Saturday’s devastating quake left the country struggling to provide emergency relief and security.

AFP - Chile called for international aid Monday as the anguished calls of trapped quake survivors pierced the rubble and police had to arrest 160 looters for defying overnight curfews.

Aid plane crash kills six

A small plane carrying an aid team to the quake-hit Chilean city of Concepcion crashed on Monday, killing all six people on board, officials say.
   
The aid team was going to assess hotel and accommodation options in the region when the Piper PA 31 crashed in the Tome area near Concepcion, air force chief Patricio Ceballos said.


Troops deployed alongside police in Concepcion, the country's second city and the worst-hit urban area, while the toll from Saturday's 8.8-magnitude quake and the resulting tsunami that swept coastal towns rose to 711.

After touring the disaster zone, President-elect Sebastian Pinera said "the situation is worse than expected" and recounted hearing cries for help when he entered a collapsed building not yet reached by rescue teams.

Rescuers with heat sensors and sniffer dogs picked through the debris of shattered buildings in Concepcion and specially designed cameras showed three survivors trapped in the twisted ruins of a 15-story apartment block.

Eight bodies were pulled Sunday from the giant building, knocked onto its back by the force of the quake, but rescuers said they were hopeful that survivors would be found.

"We'll have to work with the precision of watchmakers," said fire chief Juan Carlos Subercaseaux. "May God help us."

Aftershocks rattled shell-shocked citizens -- 127 since the quake at last count -- and Pinera said he had seen sick people sleeping out in the open under the open sky.

Deputy Interior Minister Patricio Rosende said one person was shot and killed in Concepcion as police and the army clamped down on rampant looting overnight, making 160 arrests.

Chile earthquake: the aftermath
The circumstances of the death were unclear and local media said the shooting was an altercation between looters.

"The public cooperated, it understood the need for a curfew. One has to understand the anguish that many people feel. Because on top of the constant aftershocks, there is the darkness, the uncertainty," Rosende said.

Desperate parents said they were just trying to look after their children as they raked through supermarket ruins despite the start Sunday of an overnight curfew, the first in Chile since the end of Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship.

"Water, I ask only for water," said one young woman as she shook an empty plastic bottle.

Rosende said the government had purchased all the food in the city's big supermarkets so that they could be distributed for free, and a barge and two Chilean air force planes would arrive later in the day with more supplies.

Pinera said the situation in Concepcion was dangerous.

"When we have a catastrophe of this magnitude, when there is no electricity and no
Map of the quake zone
water, the population... starts losing the sense of public order."

The scale of the devastation was still being discovered, with seaside towns and villages engulfed by massive waves from a tsunami sparked by the massive quake, which struck at 3:34 am (0634 GMT).

State television reported that more than 300 bodies had been found in the swamped fishing village of Constitucion, where survivors stared in disbelief at the seaweed clinging to the remains of their homes and businesses.

President Michelle Bachelet, due to hand over power to Pinera on March 11, said the air force would begin flying in food and aid to badly-hit areas, including some largely cut off by the quake.

Her government also officially requested international aid, after earlier saying it would wait to assess damage and needs before seeking assistance.

A spokeswoman for the UN's humanitarian coordination office (OCHA) said Chile had "supplied a list of priorities," including field hospitals, mobile bridges, communications equipment and disaster assessment and coordination teams.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in Montevideo at the beginning of a Latin America tour that will include a brief stop in Chile on Tuesday, said she had spoken with Bachelet to offer help.

"They have asked for communications equipment, some of which I'm bringing on our plane. Other technical equipment will be flown there in addition," she said.

Aid pledges also rolled in from around the world, with the European Union offering four million dollars, Japan three million and China one million.

Chile is one of Latin America's wealthiest nations and better equipped than most to withstand and recover from earthquakes, but the total damage from the quake has been forecast at between 15 billion and 30 billion dollars.

Date created : 2010-03-01

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