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Two million displaced as govt scrambles to provide aid

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2010-03-01

Chile’s government appealed to the UN for international aid on Monday as the military attempted to restore order in the wake of a devastating earthquake that has killed more than 700 people and displaced an estimated two million.

Chile turned to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Monday, to appeal for further aid after the February 27 earthquake and ensuing tsunamis devastated the country.

"The government asked for international assistance," OCHA spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said. "They supplied a list of priorities."

Among Chile’s requests were field hospitals with surgery facilities, dialysis equipment, mobile bridges, communications equipment, kitchens as well as disaster assessment and coordination teams, Byrs added.

The country was scrambling Monday to offer aid to thousands of homeless people in coastal villages rocked by an 8.8-magnitude earthquake and tsunamis, as 10,000 troops moved into the worst-hit areas to control looting.

The government raised the death toll to 711 from Saturday’s massive quake as scenes of devastation emerged in towns swamped by giant waves unleashed by one of the most powerful earthquakes in a century.

With many people missing and some communities in the central region of the South American country still isolated by damaged or destroyed roads, President Michelle Bachelet said the death toll was certain to rise.

Houses lay in ruins and cars were flattened after waves surged through fishing villages on the country’s long Pacific coast. FRANCE 24 correspondent Cyril Vanier, reporting from the capital Santiago, said that these coastal towns near the epicentre – 115 kilometres from Concepcion, the country's second-largest city – were “almost 100% destroyed”.

Rescue efforts, attempts to ‘quell’ looting

Vanier also spoke of “serious looting” in severely struck Concepcion and other cities, including Santiago, with people seen pillaging stores for food and other supplies.

A night-time curfew was implemented in the central Maule region and Concepcion in order to clamp down on such activity. Vanier reported that around 10,000 army troops were being sent in to help “bring some kind of calm back to the region”.

President Bachelet, who is due to hand over power to her successor Sebastian Pinera on March 11, announced that the air force would start flying in food and aid to badly hit areas.

Some two million Chileans, or one eighth of the entire population, are estimated to have been affected by the quake, which along with an earthquake in Ecuador in 1906 is the seventh most powerful on record.

The worst disaster to strike Chile in 50 years carved massive fissures into main highways and smashed bridges and overpasses into mangled heaps.

Economic consequences

Unlike Haiti, still recovering from a devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake on Jan. 12 which killed 217,000 people, Chile is one of Latin America's wealthiest countries and has adapted its defences since a world-record quake in 1960 killed between 2,200 and 5,700 people.
But the total value of economic damage will likely range between 15 billion and 30 billion dollars, or 10-15 percent of Chile's real gross domestic product, the US risk modelling firm EQECAT has estimated.

Experts said the quake, which struck off the coast and caused tsunami alerts in 53 Pacific-rim countries, was caused by the subduction of the Nazca plate beneath the South American plate.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had scheduled a Latin America tour before the disaster struck, will visit Santiago on Tuesday and has plans to meet with both Bachelet and Pinera, officials said.

Date created : 2010-03-01


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