Death toll at 799 in Chile quake, government says

March 3, 2010 — Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)

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Concepcion’s curfew extended. Click to watch video

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Slow deployment of troops hindered aid deployment, relief group says
  • Aid starting to reach all of Chile’s regions, National Emergency Office says
  • Stores ransacked in front of soldiers in Concepcion, where mayor says aid hasn’t come
  • President Michelle Bachelet says all emergency measures will be in place Tuesday

Concepcion, Chile (CNN) — The death toll from Saturday’s 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile has reached nearly 800, the National Emergency Office said Wednesday.

Officials say the tally of 799 dead is likely to increase in coming days as search-and-rescue crews dig into collapsed buildings and discover more bodies.

While that work continued, officials also dealt with another pressing problem: looting and lawlessness in areas of central and southern Chile.

A curfew was set from 6 p.m. Tuesday until noon Wednesday.

Speaking Tuesday at a news conference, President Michelle Bachelet said mayhem will not be allowed.

“We have seen images that are, frankly, intolerable,” Bachelet said. “We want to make it clear that it won’t be accepted.”

The government will “apply the full force of the law,” she said.

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Video: Chilean town given no warning//

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RELATED TOPICS

More than 13,000 soldiers were being dispatched to secure order, Bachelet said.

See scenes of devastation from the quake

But no troops or police could be seen in nearby Talcahuano, which was flooded Saturday by a tsunami, a correspondent for CNN Chile, CNN’s partner network, said Tuesday afternoon. The network showed people pilfering fuel from a closed gas station and others walking out of stores carrying sacks of goods on their shoulders, placing them into car trunks and driving off.

The threat of violence slowed the flow of aid, said Michael Black of the non-governmental organization World Vision, who blamed authorities for not acting sooner. “The truth is it’s taken a lot longer than needed for them to deploy the forces and re-establish order, which is necessary for any NGO,” he told CNN.

A weeping Talcahuano resident told CNN Chile that the city had received no help and inhabitants felt abandoned.

Bachelet vowed to address the situation.

“What worries us the most today is to provide security and tranquility to the nation,” she said. “We ask for understanding and patience because the aid will arrive.”

But some of that aid was delayed Tuesday at a military checkpoint on the Itata Route about 12 miles (20 km) outside of Concepcion. Images broadcast by CNN Chile showed at least 12 semi-tractor trailer trucks filled with aid stopped at the checkpoint. Behind the trucks, dozens of other vehicles stretched to the horizon.

One driver said he had been waiting for four hours.

An unidentified army captain interviewed at the checkpoint said that, if it were up to him, the convoy would pass, but he had to wait for approval from the National Emergency Office.

“We haven’t received any aid,” Concepcion Mayor Jacqueline Van Rysselberghe said Tuesday morning.

On Monday night, she had complained about the lack of security.

“We don’t want to spend one more night in the darkness and in fear,” she told CNN Chile. “We are no longer hungry, we are so scared.”

Bachelet said Tuesday morning that all emergency measures should be in place by the end of the day.

Rescuers in the hardest-hit areas, including Concepcion and the Maule and Bio Bio regions, continued to scramble to reach possible survivors.

Although damage was significant in Santiago, the nation’s capital, electricity and water were restored to much of the city by late Monday and many residents could use their cell phones and other conveniences. About 90 percent of the city’s stores were open.

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