Death toll unclear as govt under fire for misjudging tsunami threat

The death toll of the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Chile on February 27 tentatively stands at 802 as the government, emergency services and Navy face criticism for underestimating the tsunami threat following the quake.

REUTERS - Chile's government said on Thursday the death toll from a massive weekend earthquake and ensuing tsunamis was unclear because of confusion over the number of people who disappeared and whether they were dead.

The government said it had formally identified 279 of the victims and other bodies had yet to be identified but that initial tolls were unreliable. Earlier on Thursday, the government had put the death toll at 802.

"It is probable that the initial information has been imprecise about who or how many people died and how many were disappeared," said Patricio Rosende, undersecretary for the Interior Ministry.

He gave no revised death toll from Saturday's quake, one of the world's biggest in a century. An Interior Ministry source said that some people identified as missing had since shown up alive, but he did not say how many.

The confusion over the death toll comes as the government, its national emergency office and the Navy face sharp criticism for initially underestimating the threat of devastating tsunamis after the earthquake and the extent of damage across large areas of south-central Chile.

Many Chileans have also complained the government was too slow to get food and water to earthquake survivors and should have appealed earlier for international aid.

The quake and the ensuing tsunamis wrecked hundreds of thousands of homes, ravaged coastal towns and infrastructure including many roads and bridges.

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