1 Mar 2010

Emergency measures for quake-hit Chile

9:42 pm on 1 March 2010

The president of Chile has announced emergency measures to deal with the destruction caused by a devastating earthquake.

The death toll stands at 708 on Monday, as rescuers scramble to get to the worst-hit areas in the central and southern parts of the country.

The 8.8 magnitude quake hit at 3.34am (local time) on Saturday, with its epicentre 115km north-east of Concepcion, Chile's second city.

President Michelle Bachelet estimates that about 2 million people have been affected by the quake to date and a curfew is in force in some areas. Basic supplies are to be distributed as rescuers reach worst-hit areas, the BBC reports.

The 9pm to 6am curfew began on Sunday in the region of Maule - where more than 540 people are confirmed dead - and in Concepcion. Both are being placed under special rules to speed up the delivery of aid.

Emergency workers in Concepcion are desperately trying to reach dozens of people trapped in a multi-storey apartment block that collapsed in the quake. The city of about 700,000 people was still without power, water and basic supplies on Monday.

Thousands of people are homeless and the government has sent 10,000 troops into stricken areas to help rescue efforts and police maintain control as desperate survivors loot stores for food and water.

Catastrophe zones have also been declared in six of Chile's 15 regions. Damage is widespread, with buildings, bridges and roads in many areas destroyed. Electricity, water and phone lines are cut and about 1.5 million homes have been damaged.

Powerful aftershocks are continuing, including one measuring 6.2 and centred 109km northeast of the city of Talaca in the province of Maule on Sunday.

Govt admits mistake playing down tsunami threat

The government on Sunday conceded it made a mistake in initially playing down the risk of a tsunami from the earthquake.

Big waves smashed homes still standing on Saturday. Most of the dead were killed in areas where officials had urged inhabitants not to be worried. Reports say about 350 people died in the small coastal town of Constitucion alone.

Defence minister Francisco Vidal blamed the navy for what he called a "diagnostic error".

Meanwhile, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre has lifted its Pacific-wide alert, after fears of high waves failed to materialise in many countries, including Japan and New Zealand.

Saturday's quake is of the biggest ever recorded and the largest to hit Chile in 50 years. Up to 5,700 people were killed by a magnitude 9.5 quake in May 1960.

Responsibility for reconstruction will soon pass to president-elect Sebastian Pinera, who takes office in two weeks.

Economic analysts say the quake will have a deep impact on Chile's economy, with the peso weakening in the short term and a large cost for rebuilding.