Chile rescuers struggle to save lives
CONCEPCION: Rescuers edged their way toward quake victims trapped in a toppled apartment block early today even as looters stole food and robbed banks after one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded struck Chile.
Authorities put the death toll from yesterday’s magnitude-8.8 quake at 214, but believed the number would grow. They said 1.5 million Chileans were affected and 500,000 homes severely damaged by the mammoth temblor.
A tsunami caused by the quake that swept across the Pacific killed several people on a Chilean island but caused little damage in other countries, after precautionary evacuations of hundreds of thousands of people. The tsunami warning was lifted a day after the earthquake.
President Michelle Bachelet, who leaves office on March 11, declared a “state of catastrophe” in central Chile. “It was a catastrophe of devastating consequences,” she said.
Police said more than 100 people died in Concepcion, the largest city near the epicentre with more than 200,000 people. The university was among the buildings that caught fire around the city as gas and power lines snapped. Many streets were littered with rubble from edifices and inmates escaped from a nearby prison.
Police used water cannon and tear gas to scatter people who forced open the doors of the Lider supermarket in Concepcion, hauling away everything from diapers to dehydrated milk to a kitchen stove.
Across the Bio Bio River in San Pedro, others cleared out a shopping mall. A video store was set ablaze, two automatic teller machines were broken open, a bank was robbed and a supermarket emptied.
The largest building damaged in Concepion was a newly opened 11-story apartment that toppled backward, trapping an estimated 60 people inside apartments.