19 Mar 2010

Chilean panel tasked with fixing exact quake toll

6:59 pm on 19 March 2010

The Chilean government has reportedly formed a panel to determine the exact number of people killed in last month's 8.8 earthquake.

Contradictory death toll figures have been issued by different government offices over the past two weeks. Varying tolls, in the hundreds, have been reported, with many of the dead still unidentified.

Chilean media say the new government of President Sebastian Pinera will do a complete recount and cross-check all the figures. Six officials will compile a list with names and identification papers of everyone killed in the quake and the subsequent tsunami.

On 3 March the deputy interior minister in the previous government announced 802 deaths. Five days later, however, without explaining the discrepancy, he said that 487 people had been killed.

On 17 March the head of the Investigations Police, Marcos Vasquez, said that just over 500 people had been identified, and that there were 130 cases filed of people presumed to be dead.

But on the same day the Legal Medical Services office said that only 323 victims had been identified.

Why relatively few died, compared with Haiti

Meanwhile, American scientists investigating Chile's earthquake have outlined the reasons why they think relatively few people died in it, compared with the January earthquake in Haiti.

They say public knowledge of earthquakes in Chile, together with the slow build-up of the quake to its crescendo, gave people time to get out of buildings and saved thousands of lives.