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Troops struggle to contain looting in quake aftermath

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-03-03

Chilean authorities have extended a curfew in Concepcion and introduced restrictions in three other towns as looting in the country worsened in the wake of Saturday’s earthquake, which has left at least 795 people dead.

Chilean authorities extended a curfew in Concepcion Monday, as well as imposing curfews on three other towns in an effort to contain worsening looting after Saturday’s 8.8-magnitude earthquake caused widespread devastation and left at least 795 people dead. 

Restrictions in Concepcion have been extended by three hours, forcing people off the streets between 6pm and noon, while residents in the towns of Talca, Cauquenes and Constitucion are also subject to long stretches of curfew.

The new restrictions in the badly damaged city of Concepcion were imposed after looters burned stores and residents complained of deteriorating security and slow government delivery of food and other supplies. 

Condemning the “pillage and criminality”, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet also dispatched 14,000 soldiers to the region to reinforce local police and said her government was sending food and medicine.

Soldiers not ‘able to control situation’

But residents on the ground said that authorities were struggling to restore order in the city.

“Government help has been so slow to arrive,” Caroline Contreras, a 36-year-old teacher, told Reuters. “The soldiers just arrived and haven’t been able to control the situation.”

Reports surfaced of residents in Concepcion setting up groups to defend their properties from looters, who the city’s mayor said on Monday were becoming more organised.

Residents also criticised the government’s response in the battered central city of Talca, where the main hospital partly collapsed, forcing doctors and nurses to treat wounded quake victims in a clinic.


Counters overflowed with boxes of medicine that had been hastily arranged. Nearly 10 people have died at the hospital and the morgue has received at least 30 bodies, officials said.

“We have not got any help from the government. We were expecting more and are still waiting for the three basics—food, water and electricity,” Damian Vera Vergara, 68, told Reuters.

The government has acknowledged its difficulties providing help swiftly because of damaged roads and power disruptions caused by the quake.

Foreign aid and visits

At least two million people, an eighth of Chile's population, are said to be affected by the quake.

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

The UN's humanitarian coordination office (OCHA) said Chile had specifically asked for field hospitals, mobile bridges, communications equipment and disaster assessment teams.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on a Latin America tour that will include a brief stop in Chile on Tuesday. Clinton said she had spoken with Bachelet and was bringing satellite telephones with her.

Her spokesman Philip Crowley said more US aid would be sent and that because of the devastation, Clinton would meet with Bachelet at Santiago airport.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Monday became the first foreign leader to visit since the disaster, expressing solidarity with quake victims as he met with Bachelet briefly at Santiago airport before flying home.

The devastating quake struck as one of Latin America’s most prosperous countries was trying to recover from a recession brought on by the global financial crisis. The total economic damage from the quake could exceed 15 billion dollars, the catastrophe risk firm AIR Worldwide said.

The quake sent giant waves surging into villages on the country’s Pacific coast. In the town of Constitucion alone, 350 people were reported to have died, and the full scale of damage in isolated coastal towns still remains unclear.

Date created : 2010-03-02


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