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Some Chile quake survivors wait for aid a week on
by Terry Wade and Fabian Cambero

Reuters    Translate This Article
6 March 2010

(Reuters) - Some survivors were still waiting for government aid on Saturday in south-central Chile, a week after one of the strongest earthquakes on record killed hundreds and repeated aftershocks rattled nerves.

Homeless and desperate, they voiced anger and frustration at outgoing President Michelle Bachelet's handling of the disaster, saying her administration was too slow to mobilize after the 8.8-magnitude quake struck early on February 27.

'There has been an earthquake of disorganization on the part of the national and local governments,' said Fernando Valenzuela, 44, who is living with his wife in a tent city of 42 in the small town of Dichato, near the quake epicenter.

'This is a case of bad governmental management and organization ... 99 percent of the help we have got has been from the Chilean people, and only 1 percent from the government,' he added as others cooked meals over open fires.

The area around Dichato was devastated by tsunamis triggered by the quake, which washed large ships as far as 1.2 miles inland. Wooden homes splintered like matchsticks and crushed cars sat at odd angles amid debris.

Cargo planes have landed around 19 miles away with water, food and bedding, but aid had yet to reach some tent cities.

Many outraged survivors say they were not warned of the tsunamis, which followed hours after the quake, and the Navy acknowledged its alert system broke down and fired the head of its catastrophe warning unit.

It was one of a series of blunders. The government is revising the death toll after authorities mistakenly tallied scores of missing people who later turned up alive.

Officials said on Friday they had now identified 452 victims. They did not give a number for unidentified bodies or missing people and have backed off a previous figure of more than 800 deaths.

Center-right President-elect Sebastian Pinera, who will be sworn-in on March 11 in a toned-down ceremony, has pledged to overhaul Chile's National Emergency Office, known as Onemi.

Some criticized Bachelet for not putting troops on the streets immediately after the quake in Chile, which is considered Latin America's most developed country for its stable economy and social services.

Sporadic looting broke out in several cities in the days after the quake but it has been generally contained.

Some feel socialist Bachelet was reluctant to end her presidency with the military patrolling because it would be reminiscent of images of late dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet's brutal 1973-90 dictatorship.

'Michelle Bachelet did not want to finish her term with the army on the streets,' said Ivan Gonzalez Ruiz, owner of a bakery that was looted in the port city of Talcahuano. 'But it was absolutely necessary, they needed to stop the looting and she waited too long.'

Bachelet flew to the quake-hit zone again on Saturday, two days after she intervened during a visit to the area to treat a man suffering an epileptic fit. She is a qualified doctor.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon toured Concepcion, Chile's second-largest city, where some people fled their houses or vehicles where they had been sleeping since the quake as seven intense aftershocks shook the area on Friday.

The strongest of those was 6.6 in magnitude.

In the battered coastal town of Constitucion, aid was flowing and residents said they felt calmer and that life was gradually normalizing. However, some remained camped on surrounding hills and police said children were too scared to return to classes.

Local fisherman Emilio Gutierrez escaped the tsunami in his fishing boat. But another boat carrying his father and two sons sank.

'We found (my father) and were able to bury him. My 16-year-old son managed to jump onto a pier and was saved, but we haven't found my other son, who is four,' he added. 'I think the sea swallowed him.'

The quake and the giant waves destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes, wrecked bridges and roads and cracked modern buildings in the capital, Santiago.

In the country's famous grape-growing regions, wine barrels cracked and spilled.

Chile's biggest copper mines were mostly spared but its top two oil refineries were hit hard and are still offline, forcing the country to boost fuel imports. Other key export industries such as pulp, fishing and fruit also took a hit.

The government has shied away from quantifying the damage, seen ranging from around $15 billion to as much as $30 billion, around 15 percent of the gross domestic product of the world's leading copper producer. Bachelet has said Chile will need international loans to help fund reconstruction.

(Additional reporting by Ignacio Badal in Constitucion and Mica Rosenberg in Santiago; Writing by Simon Gardner; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

Copyright 2010 Reuters. Reprinted with permission from Reuters. Reuters content is the intellectual property of Reuters or its third party content providers. Any copying, republication or redistribution or Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. Reuters and the Reuters Sphere Logo are registered trademarks of the Reuters group of companies around the world. For additional information about Reuters content and services, please visit Reuters website at www.reuters.com. License # REU-5918-MES

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