Latest News From Chile: Chile’s capital is returning to normal as electricity comes online and international flights resume, while residents of towns closer to the Feb. 27 earthquake’s epicenter wait for help to arrive.
The government has distributed 8,200 tons of aid in the two hardest hit regions, President Michelle Bachelet said as she visited the blighted city of Concepcion, where the first supermarket reopened its doors following the temblor yesterday. She defended her government’s reaction to the earthquake, saying “everything humanly possible has been done.” Aftershocks again rattled buildings in Concepcion today.
“This was an earthquake of biblical proportions,” Foreign Affairs Minister Mariano Fernandez said in an interview with television station TVN. “Not even a week has passed and we have reconnected electricity in Concepcion. We’ve set up an air bridge and campaign hospitals and other advances.”
Conditions were more dire in many small communities, especially the coastal villages swamped by a tsunami wave that followed the 8.8-magnitude quake, the world’s fifth strongest in the past century. On a highway outside Constitucion, cars passed a man holding up a handwritten sign reading “Help Please.” A woman stood by a placard saying there are homeless nearby, in need of milk, food and diapers.
The government said at least 800 people died as a result of the earthquake. Residents of apartment buildings near Concepcion’s army base ran out of buildings today as a series of aftershocks, including a magnitude-6.8 temblor, rattled the city.
Police Corporal Fernando Vejar said he has been working dawn-to-dusk since the day after the quake with a team of six body-sniffing dogs in Constitution, 300 kilometers (190 miles) south of Santiago. He and his team have pulled 12 bodies from the rubble, including a couple and their three-month-old baby.
“We have been working nonstop because we have our hearts in it,” said Vejar, standing next to his tan Labrador, Nico. “I don’t know how many bodies there are out there, but I can tell you there’s a lot. The destruction is unimaginable.
“But we have to keep at it,” he said. “It’s our job, and we won’t stop until we find them all.”
In the port town of Talcahuano near the country’s second- largest city, Concepcion, residents have survived by bartering water, food and fuel among themselves. Johnny Munoz, 29, knocked on the door of a neighbor to find diapers and milk for the youngest of his three children.
“Here no help has arrived,” said Munoz, shortly after an aftershock shook the wooden houses in the shanty town where he lives above the port. “If we hadn’t organized ourselves in this way we would be in total misery now.”
The port will have to be entirely rebuilt, Public Works Minister Sergio Bitar told Radio BioBio.
In the town, roads are blocked by broken boats and sacks of fishmeal covered in black mud left by the tidal wave. Scavengers could be seen taking radios and other equipment from the remains of abandoned fishing vessels. Soldiers carried rifles to protect stores that were destroyed by the tsunami.
Munoz fears looters that were active in the first days after the quake may return as supplies dwindle.
“Nobody has come near here,” he said. “If help doesn’t arrive, things could get really bad.”
In Santiago, the scene is different. Basic services are running and life is returning to normal. At least 40 international flights arrived in the city yesterday and 28 departed, according to the airport’s Web site. Electricity is on in 94 percent of the city, distributer Chilectra SA said.
In downtown Santiago, office workers and hotel guests used elevators again after precautionary bans were removed. Businesses, some of which closed early following the quake, remained open through the afternoon.
The stock market rose yesterday for the first time since the quake, advancing 0.9 percent. Three days of declines had made the country’s benchmark index the world’s worst performing equity market.
The peso climbed 0.3 percent to a five-week high versus the dollar yesterday and Scotiabank Chile said it sold $163 million in indexed bonds, the first issue since the quake.
The cost of rebuilding from the quake, Chile’s biggest since 1960, will be “of an enormous, enormous magnitude,” Bachelet said. She told ADN Radio yesterday that reconstruction will take four years.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is scheduled to meet Bachelet and President-elect Sebastian Pinera today, according to a statement from the UN. His trip includes a visit to Concepcion.
Pinera pledged yesterday to modernize Chile’s emergency- response and early-warning systems after what he said were weaknesses exposed on Feb. 27.
“We don’t just have to rebuild what this earthquake and seaquake destroyed, we need to learn profound lessons so that our country is better prepared,” he said.