2 Mar 2010

Chile stuggles to contain looting after quake

10:43 pm on 2 March 2010

A curfew in Chile's second city, Concepcion, has been extended as troops struggle to contain looting and restore order after a powerful earthquake.

The 8.8 magnitude quake hit at 3.34am (local time) on Saturday, with its epicentre 115km north-east of Concepcion. The death toll rose to 723 on Monday, with 19 people reported missing.

Parts of the country's second biggest city have been badly damaged and now resemble a war zone, with military armoured personnel carriers patrolling the streets.

Water and electricity supplies have been cut and many of the city's 500,000 inhabitants are desperate for food and water. Residents have complained of poor security and the slow delivery of aid.

One man was shot dead and some 160 people arrested as police and troops tried to stop looters attempting to flee with food and electrical goods during a curfew, the BBC reports.

The 9pm to 6pm curfew began on Sunday and has been extended until midday. The deteriorating security situation comes despite the influx of thousands of soldiers to reinforce local police and stop rising crime.

While many of Concepcion's inhabitants are going hungry, others are making off with plasma TVs and other appliances. Dozens were arrested after looters fought over goods and set fire to a department store.

Authorities have set up an air bridge to deliver aid from the capital Santiago to Concepcion. The shuttle flights are expected to deliver 120 tonnes of food supplies on Tuesday.

In coastal towns and villages hit by giant waves after the earthquake, the scale of destruction is becoming clear.

In the small fishing town of Constitucion, a tsunami generated by the quake killed about 350 people. The government has admitted it failed to warn people soon enough about the danger.

Few buildings remain standing and people are still searching for missing family members.

In the port of Talcahuano, more than 20 boats were swept ashore and dumped in the streets by the waves.

President appeals for international help

The president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, has called for international assistance.

The United Nations has responded by pledging to rush aid deliveries to the stricken country. A spokeswoman said Chile had requested field hospitals with surgery facilities, mobile bridges, communications equipment, kitchens, and disaster assessment and co-ordination teams.

The Australian government has pledged $A5 million of aid, comprising $A1 million of emergency funding and the remainder for reconstruction assistance.

New Zealand foreign ministry officials are to meet on Tuesday to discuss Chile's request for aid.

Most of the large New Zealand aid agencies have set up relief funds for Chile, except Tear Fund New Zealand, which says it wants to concentrate on its fund-raising efforts for Haiti.

The New Zealand Red Cross started an appeal on Monday, raising $1500 in the first 24 hours from online donations, with more money expected. Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand has pledged $25,000 dollars in aid.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says it has made contact with all but 20 New Zealanders believed to have been in Chile when the earthquake struck.