CONCEPCION, Chile – Police fired tear gas and imposed an overnight curfew to control looters who sacked virtually every market in this hard-hit city as Chile’s earthquake toll surpassed 700.promised imminent deliveries of food, water and shelter for thousands living on the streets.
“We are confronting an emergency without parallel in Chile’s history,” Bachelet declared Sunday, a day after the magnitude-8.8 quake — one of the biggest in centuries — killed at least 708 people and destroyed or badly damaged 500,000 homes. Bachelet said “a growing number” of people were recorded as missing.
In Concepcion, 320 miles (515 kilometers) south of Santiago, firefighters pulling survivors from a toppled apartment building had to pause because of tear gas fired at looters who wheeled away everything from microwave ovens to canned milk at a damaged supermarket across the street.
Ingenious looters used long tubes of bamboo and plastic to siphon gasoline from underground tanks at a closed gasoline station.
Eduardo Aundez, a Spanish professor, watched with disgust as a soldier patiently waited for looters to rummage through a downtown store, then lobbed two tear gas canisters into the rubble to get them out.
“I feel abandoned” by authorities, he said. “We believe the government didn’t take the necessary measures in time, and now supplies of food and water are going to be much more complicated.”
Looters even carted off pieces of a copper statue of South American independence fighter Bernardo O’Higgins next to a justice building.
Efforts to determine the full scope of destruction were undermined by an endless string of terrifying aftershocks that turned more buildings into rubble — and forced thousands to set up tents in parks and grassy highway medians.
“If you’re inside your house, the furniture moves,” said Monica Aviles, pulling a shawl around her shoulders to ward off the cold as she sat next to a fire across the street from her apartment building.
As if to punctuate her fear, an aftershock set off shuddering and groaning sounds for blocks around.
“That’s why we’re here,” she said.
In another part of the city, eight Peruvian families shared a four-story building — the bravest living inside the cracked building, the others in tents out front.
“We’ve received help from the neighbors, from passing taxis and from other people who have offered us a coat or something to eat,” said Samantha Fernandez, who offered space to boyfriend Jose Luis Jacinto after he fled his room during after the quake.
Bachelet signed a decree giving the military control over security in the provinces of Concepcion and Maule and announced a 9 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew for all non-emergency workers.
She ordered troops to help deliver food, water and blankets and clear rubble from roads, and she urged power companies to restore service first to hospitals, health clinics and shelters. Field hospitals were planned for hard-hit Concepcion, Talca and Curico.
Bachelet also ordered authorities to quickly identify the dead and return them to their families to ensure “the dignified burials that they deserve.”
Bachelet, who leaves office March 11, saidneeds field hospitals and temporary bridges, water purification plants and damage assessment experts — as well as rescuers to help relieve exhausted workers.
Defense Minister Francisco Vidal acknowledged the navy made a mistake by not immediately activating a tsunami warning after the quake hit before dawn Saturday. Port captains in several coastal towns did, saving what Vidal called hundreds of lives. Thirty minutes passed between the quake and a wave that inundated coastal towns.
The quake damaged houses, bridges and highways in Santiago, the capital, though a few flights managed to land at the airport and subway service resumed. Concepcion’s airport remained closed to commercial traffic.
Rescuers searched for an estimated 60 people trapped inside a new, 15-story apartment building that toppled onto its side in Concepcion. Firefighters were lowering a rescuer deep into the rubble when tear gas fired at looters across the street forced them to pause their efforts.
Jorge Guerra took names of the missing from tearful relatives and friends.
“There are people alive. There are several people who are going to be rescued,” he said — though the next people pulled from the wreckage were dead.
The sound of chain saws, power drills and sledgehammers mixed with the whoosh of a water cannon fired at looters and the shouts of crowds that found new ways into a four-story supermarket each time police retreated. Some looters threw rocks at armored police vehicles outside the Lider market, which is majority-owned by Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Across the Bio Bio River in the city of San Pedro, looters cleared out a shopping mall. A video store was set ablaze, two automatic teller machines were broken open, a bank was robbed and a supermarket emptied, its floor littered with mashed plums, scattered dog food and smashed liquor bottles.
“They looted everything,” said police Sgt. Rene Gutierrez, 46. “Now we’re only here to protect the building — what’s left of the building.”
The quake generated waves that lashed coastal settlements, leaving behind sticks, scraps of metal and masonry houses ripped in two. A beachside carnival in the village of Lloca was swamped in the tsunami. A carousel was twisted on its side and arose above the muddy wreckage. Adobe buildings in ‘s town center were flattened.
State television showed scenes of devastation in coastal towns and on Robinson Crusoe Island, where it said the tsunami drove almost 2 miles (3 kilometers) into the town of . Officials said at least five people were killed there and more were missing.
Bus terminals overflowed with vacationers in Chile’s provinces trying to check on their homes. Chile’s summer vacation period ends Monday.
In Washington, the State Department urged Americans to avoid tourist and other nonessential travel to Chile. U.S. citizens in Chile were asked to contact family and friends in the United States, whether by telephone, Internet or cell-phone text messaging.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton planned to briefly visit Santiago on Tuesday as part of a five-nationLatin America trip.
[Updated 02.28.10, 8:22 a.m.] – More Than 2 Million Affected By Chilean Earthquake
Santiago, Chile — As the sun set in Chile on Saturday, a picture of the immense structural damage wrought by an early morning earthquake had come clearly into focus, with the nation’s president estimating that 2 million people had been affected in some way.
More than 300 people were killed, according to Chile’s Office of Emergency Management, and 15 are missing.
The carnage from the 8.8-magnitude quake didn’t begin to approach that unleashed by January’s earthquake in Haiti, which left 212,000 people dead and more than a million homeless, even though it was considerably less forceful, with a 7.0 magnitude.
Saturday’s quake was 700 to 800 times stronger, but at a greater depth — 21.7 miles — compared to the shallow 8.1-mile depth of the Haiti quake, which contributed to much of the damage there.
Coastal Chile has a history of deadly earthquakes, with 13 quakes of magnitude 7.0 or higher since 1973, the U.S. Geological Survey said. As a result, experts said that newer buildings are constructed to help withstand the shocks.
Still, the damage from Chile’s earthquake was widespread. A 15-story high rise near the southern city of Concepcion collapsed; the country’s major north-south highway was severed at multiple points; and the capital city’s airport was closed after its terminal sustained major damage.
[Updated 02.27.10] –Massive Earthquake Strikes Chile; Tsunami Threatens Pacific
TALCA, Chile – A devastating earthquake struck Chile early Saturday, toppling homes, collapsing bridges and plunging trucks into the fractured earth. A tsunami set off by the magnitude-8.8 quake threatened every nation around the Pacific Ocean — roughly a quarter of the globe.
Interior Minister Edmundo Perez Yoma said the most powerful quake to hit the country in a half-century killed at least 82 people, but the death toll was rising quickly.
In the town of, just 65 miles (105 kilometers) from the epicenter, Associated Press journalist Roberto Candia said it felt as if a giant had grabbed him and shaken him.
The town’s historic center, filled with buildings of adobe mud and straw, largely collapsed, though most of those were businesses that were not inhabited during the 3:34 a.m. (1:34 a.m. EST, 0634 GMT) quake. Neighbors pulled at least five people from the rubble while emergency workers, themselves disoriented, asked for information from reporters.
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RELATED: Interesting look at the earthquake data via Nick Bilton’s Flickr:
Many roads were destroyed, and electricity, water and phone lines were cut to many areas — meaning there was no word of death or damage from many outlying areas.
In the Chilean capital of Santiago, 200 miles (325 kilometers) northeast of the epicenter, a car dangled from a collapsed overpass, the national Fine Arts Museum was badly damaged and an apartment building’s two-story parking lot pancaked, smashing about 50 cars whose alarms rang incessantly.
Experts warned that a tsunami could strike anywhere in the Pacific, and Hawaii could face its largest waves since 1964 starting at 11:19 a.m. (4:19 p.m. EST, 2119 GMT), according to, director of the .
Tsunami waves were likely to hit Asian, Australian and New Zealandshores within 24 hours of the earthquake. The U.S. West Coast andAlaska, too, were threatened.
A huge wave swept into a populated area in the Robinson Crusoe Islands, 410 miles (660 kilometers) off the Chilean coast, PresidentMichelle Bachelet said, but there were no immediate reports of major damage.
Bachelet had no information on the number of people injured. She declared a “state of catastrophe” in central Chile.
“We have had a huge earthquake, with some aftershocks,” she said from an emergency response center. She said Chile has not asked for assistance from other countries, and urged Chileans not to panic.
“The system is functioning. People should remain calm. We’re doing everything we can with all the forces we have. Any information we will share immediately,” she said.
Powerful aftershocks rattled Chile’s coast — 24 of them magnitude 5 or greater and one reaching magnitude 6.9 — thereported.
In Santiago, modern buildings are built to withstand earthquakes, but many older ones were heavily damaged, including the Nuestra Senora de la Providencia church, whose bell tower collapsed. A bridge just outside the capital also collapsed, and at least one car flipped upside down.
Several hospitals were evacuated due to, Bachelet said.
Santiago’s airport will remain closed for at least 24 hours, airport director Eduardo del Canto said. The passenger terminal suffered major damage, he told Chilean television in a telephone interview. TV images show smashed windows, partially collapsed ceilings and pedestrian walkways destroyed.
Santiago’s subway was shut as well and hundreds of buses were trapped at a terminal by a damaged bridge, Transportation and Telecommunications Minister told Chilean television. He urged Chileans to make phone calls or travel only when absolutely necessary.
Candia was visiting his wife’s 92-year-old grandmother in Talca when the quake struck.
WATCH Chileans describe earthquake:
“Everything was falling — chests of drawers, everything,” he said. “I was sleeping with my 8-year-old sonDiego and I managed to cover his head with a pillow. It was like major turbulence on an airplane.”
In Concepcion, 70 miles (115 kilometers) from the epicenter, nurses and residents pushed the injured through the streets on stretchers. Others walked around in a daze wrapped in blankets, some carrying infants in their arms.
Concepcion, Chile’s second-largest city, is 60 miles (95 kilometers) from the ski town of Chillan, a gateway to Andean ski resorts that was destroyed in a 1939 earthquake.
The quake also shook buildings in Argentina’s capital of Buenos Aires, 900 miles (1,400 kilometers) away on the Atlantic side of.
Marco Vidal, a program director for Grand Circle Travel who was traveling with a group of 34 Americans, was on the 19th floor of the Crown Plaza Santiago hotel when the quake struck.
“All the things start to fall. The lamps, everything, was going on the floor,” he said. “I felt terrified.”
Cynthia Iocono, from Linwood, Pennsylvania, said she first thought the quake was a train.
“But then I thought, `Oh, there’s no train here.’ And then the lamps flew off the dresser and my TV flew off onto the floor and crashed.”
The quake struck after concert-goers had left South America’s leading music festival in the coastal city of Vina del Mar, but it caught partiers leaving a disco.
“It was very bad. People were screaming. Some people were running, others appeared paralyzed. I was one of them,” Julio Alvarez told Radio Cooperativa.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center called for “urgent action to protect lives and property” in Hawaii, which is among 53 nations and territories subject to tsunami warnings.
“Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated. It may have been destructive along coasts near theand could also be a threat to more distant coasts,” the warning center said. It did not expect a tsunami along the west of the U.S. or Canada.
The largest earthquake ever recorded struck the same area ofon May 22, 1960. The magnitude-9.5 quake killed 1,655 people and left 2 million homeless. The tsunami that it caused killed people in Hawaii,Japan and the Philippines and caused damage to the west coast of the United States.