Chile quake: Uncertainty reigns in southern Chile

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The World

TEMUCO, Chile — Conditions in southern Chile have grown more desperate for survivors of Saturday’s earthquake as the death toll continues to rise.

Uncertainty has caused long lines of worried drivers at the gas stations that remain open, and hoarding in supermarkets.

Concepcion is the main transit point for gas distribution throughout the southern Lakes region of Chile. But with bridges and roads damaged, there is uncertainty about what’s ahead in the near-term despite assurances from gas distributors that there is enough gas to meet demand for at least the next two weeks.

On the road leading out of the southern coastal city Valdivia, almost all gas stations were closed. Francisca Romero, 41, a housewife who lives just outside of Valdivia, said: “We are not sure when the roads will be fixed. It could be awhile, so people are stocking up.”

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet declared a state of emergency. The preliminary count is at least 708 people dead with hundreds injured and missing and at least 2 million people displaced. About 500,000 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged.

Slideshow: scenes of destruction

In Concepcion, Constitucion and other towns in the areas most heavily hit — the Bio Bio and Maule regions — looting has begun. Desperate residents, many now homeless, are looting supermarkets, shopping malls and other stores. Others are just taking advantage of the chaos, taking television sets or robbing bank machines.

On Chilean national television some of the looting took place live in front of a national audience, prompting an outcry among Chileans and the government to send in 10,000 troops to maintain order. About 160 people were reported to have been detained by police.

The known damage, like the death toll, continues to be much worse than initial reports.

Coastal towns are in chaos, with roads twisted up, bridges broken, houses smashed and cars strewn about. In Cobquecura, which is the town closest to the epicenter of the 8.8-magnitude earthquake, those who are able to leave have done so by car or headed for the hills in fear. In Llolleo, about 200 homes were swept away by a tsunami.

Chile Defense Minister Francisco Vidal admitted that the Chilean Navy made a mistake in not warning residents in coastal areas about a tsunami, giving some Chileans a false sense of security that was later smashed by waves more than 20 feet high on Saturday evening.

There have been more than 100 aftershocks after the earthquake, with aftershocks on early Monday morning as high as 5.3 on the Richter scale.

In Concepcion, Chile’s second-largest city, rescue workers continue to use jack hammers and bulldozers to help free 80 people trapped in a new, 15-story apartment building that collapsed. So far, 25 persons have made it out, and four bodies have been recovered.

In Temuco, the 210,000-person capital of the Auracania region, about four hours southwest of Concepcion, water and electricity were just beginning to be restored this morning.

On several streets, many older homes have collapsed. The entire facade of one apartment building is missing, revealing the insides of rooms.

Many here are slowly beginning to shake their fear, but there is still much to be concerned about. “This has been a terrible experience,” said Temuco resident, Evelyn Merino, 33. “I have relatives in Concepcion, and we still don’t know what has happened to them.”