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Chile quake toll rises to 708, emergency declared

By The Assam Tribune

SANTIAGO, March 1 (DPA) - Searchers scoured the rubble of collapsed buildings for survivors Sunday as the toll from the devastating earthquake that hit Chile reached 708.

President Michelle Bachelet released the new figure, and the country was bracing for reports of even more deaths from the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that hit Saturday morning.

Parts of the worst-hit region in the south of country descended into chaos as looters took to the streets and people complained the government was not doing enough to help them. Bachelet declared a 30-day state of emergency for the hardest hit regions of Maule and Biobio, along the west coast.

In Concepcion, the hardest-hit city, a nightly curfew from 2100 to 0600 local time was declared.

Defence Minister Francisco Vidal announced the deployment of 10,000 soldiers into the quake-hit region to provide security.

"We are standing before a catastrophe of such magnitude that all sections of society will need to pull strong, and together, to get through this," Bachelet said.

For the first time, Bachelet asked for help from abroad after earlier saying Chile could take care of itself. She said Chile needed support for its hospitals, rescue efforts, communications infrastructure, structural engineers and de-salinisation plants for water.

The European Union (EU), the US and several neighbouring countries have offered help.

"The United Nations, especially the emergency aid coordinators, are ready," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said.

The EU has pledged three million euros ($4 million) in emergency aid.

Authorities estimated there was damage to two million homes. President-elect Sebastian Pinera, who takes over as head of state March 11, promised a national plan to rebuild the South American nation.

Widespread damage to roads and port installations hampered relief efforts. In many places there was no electricity, gas or water. The telephone network functioned only intermittently.

Santiago's international airport reopened for limited service by schedule passenger airliners, including a flight from LAN out of Peru, Chilean television reported.

The facility had been closed because of structural damage to the terminal buildings, but officials said the runways were unscathed. Four more planes, including one from Miami, were expected.

In Concepcion, a city of more than 600,000 that was near the epicentre of the earthquake, rescue teams searched feverishly for residents trapped in a damaged apartment block.

Thirty people were pulled alive from the 14-storey building, which broke into two halves, but another 60 more remained inside. Most were asleep when the magnitude 8.8 quake hit at 3.34 am Saturday.

Many of the city's inhabitants gave up waiting for aid and went out to look for food and water. One group of looters targetted a supermarket located next to a regional authority building.

"We're hungry and thirsty," said one man as he fled with a bag of food. Women and children, their arms filled with goods from the shelves, joined in the looting.

One woman stuffed packets of babies' nappies under her arms, while young men carted off electrical appliances. Police initially turned a blind eye but then used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the looters.

The head of the Centre for Disaster Prevention Carmen Fernandez, vowed that everything would be done to help those in need.

It was not immediately clear how many people had been made homeless by the quake, the worst to hit Chile since 1960 when 1,600 people lost their lives.

A post-quake tsunami sent thousands of people scurrying to higher ground in some southern coastal regions and triggered tsunami alerts across the Pacific.

Because everything happened so quickly, they were unable to take any food or water with them and on Sunday spent a second day in the open.

"There are 200 of us here and we have absolutely nothing. We're ready to pay but no one wants to sell us anything. We need flour, water and other food," said one survivor.

"The earth shook and then the sea flowed into our home. The water was up to our necks," said one resident of the coastal town of Iloca.

In Talcahuano, the water swept medium-sized ships into the centre of town and left the port area littered with overturned shipping containers.

"The water swept aside everything that got in its way," said a resident of the small town of Boyecura.

A wall of water swept across the Chilean island of Robinson Crusoe, 670 km off the coast, destroying many buildings and sweeping five people out to sea. Eleven others were missing.

Countries bordering the Pacific escaped with a scare after the tsunami generated by the earthquake triggered only small waves.

Japan and Russia were the last countries to lift or downgrade their tsunami alerts. Waves of 40 to 120 centimetres were reported.

On Hawaii, where a 15-metre tsunami struck after an earthquake on Indonesia in 2004, the worst conditions were little more than rough waves or higher than normal sea levels.

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Chile quake toll rises to 708, emergency declared

SANTIAGO, March 1 (DPA) - Searchers scoured the rubble of collapsed buildings for survivors Sunday as the toll from the devastating earthquake that hit Chile reached 708.

President Michelle Bachelet released the new figure, and the country was bracing for reports of even more deaths from the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that hit Saturday morning.

Parts of the worst-hit region in the south of country descended into chaos as looters took to the streets and people complained the government was not doing enough to help them. Bachelet declared a 30-day state of emergency for the hardest hit regions of Maule and Biobio, along the west coast.

In Concepcion, the hardest-hit city, a nightly curfew from 2100 to 0600 local time was declared.

Defence Minister Francisco Vidal announced the deployment of 10,000 soldiers into the quake-hit region to provide security.

"We are standing before a catastrophe of such magnitude that all sections of society will need to pull strong, and together, to get through this," Bachelet said.

For the first time, Bachelet asked for help from abroad after earlier saying Chile could take care of itself. She said Chile needed support for its hospitals, rescue efforts, communications infrastructure, structural engineers and de-salinisation plants for water.

The European Union (EU), the US and several neighbouring countries have offered help.

"The United Nations, especially the emergency aid coordinators, are ready," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said.

The EU has pledged three million euros ($4 million) in emergency aid.

Authorities estimated there was damage to two million homes. President-elect Sebastian Pinera, who takes over as head of state March 11, promised a national plan to rebuild the South American nation.

Widespread damage to roads and port installations hampered relief efforts. In many places there was no electricity, gas or water. The telephone network functioned only intermittently.

Santiago's international airport reopened for limited service by schedule passenger airliners, including a flight from LAN out of Peru, Chilean television reported.

The facility had been closed because of structural damage to the terminal buildings, but officials said the runways were unscathed. Four more planes, including one from Miami, were expected.

In Concepcion, a city of more than 600,000 that was near the epicentre of the earthquake, rescue teams searched feverishly for residents trapped in a damaged apartment block.

Thirty people were pulled alive from the 14-storey building, which broke into two halves, but another 60 more remained inside. Most were asleep when the magnitude 8.8 quake hit at 3.34 am Saturday.

Many of the city's inhabitants gave up waiting for aid and went out to look for food and water. One group of looters targetted a supermarket located next to a regional authority building.

"We're hungry and thirsty," said one man as he fled with a bag of food. Women and children, their arms filled with goods from the shelves, joined in the looting.

One woman stuffed packets of babies' nappies under her arms, while young men carted off electrical appliances. Police initially turned a blind eye but then used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the looters.

The head of the Centre for Disaster Prevention Carmen Fernandez, vowed that everything would be done to help those in need.

It was not immediately clear how many people had been made homeless by the quake, the worst to hit Chile since 1960 when 1,600 people lost their lives.

A post-quake tsunami sent thousands of people scurrying to higher ground in some southern coastal regions and triggered tsunami alerts across the Pacific.

Because everything happened so quickly, they were unable to take any food or water with them and on Sunday spent a second day in the open.

"There are 200 of us here and we have absolutely nothing. We're ready to pay but no one wants to sell us anything. We need flour, water and other food," said one survivor.

"The earth shook and then the sea flowed into our home. The water was up to our necks," said one resident of the coastal town of Iloca.

In Talcahuano, the water swept medium-sized ships into the centre of town and left the port area littered with overturned shipping containers.

"The water swept aside everything that got in its way," said a resident of the small town of Boyecura.

A wall of water swept across the Chilean island of Robinson Crusoe, 670 km off the coast, destroying many buildings and sweeping five people out to sea. Eleven others were missing.

Countries bordering the Pacific escaped with a scare after the tsunami generated by the earthquake triggered only small waves.

Japan and Russia were the last countries to lift or downgrade their tsunami alerts. Waves of 40 to 120 centimetres were reported.

On Hawaii, where a 15-metre tsunami struck after an earthquake on Indonesia in 2004, the worst conditions were little more than rough waves or higher than normal sea levels.