New tsunami alert; Chileans rattled

CONSTITUCION: Powerful aftershocks sent terrified people scrambling for the hills in tsunami-prone coastal areas in Chile as aid began to pour into towns after the army managed to quell looting.

Four days after giant waves swept hundreds to their death, two powerful aftershocks, with magnitudes of 5.9 and 6.0, triggered a brief new tsunami warning yesterday along the stretch of Chile’s central coast worst hit on Saturday.

Thousands of traumatized earthquake survivors, some still trying to identify loved ones claimed by killer waves, rushed to higher ground as troops ushered them up hillsides. The alert was lifted less than 30 minutes later.

Ignacio Gutierrez, from a Chilean television station, was driving into the devastated seaside resort of Constitucion when people fleeing stopped his car and shouted: “Run, run there is a tsunami.” Nelson Muna was bringing food and water for victims when he heard the sirens wailing and was confronted by a scene of utter panic: “We saw soldiers running, everyone running out of town. Even the soldiers were scared.” Another 6.1 magnitude aftershock struck late yesterday in central Chile, one of nearly 200 to rattle the South American nation since Saturday’s massive 8.8 temblor.

The panic came just as thousands of troops, with the help of a strict curfew, finally appeared to have restored some semblance of normality in Concepcion, Chile’s second city, after days of post-quake unrest.

Traffic lights blinked on and neon signs came back to life as electricity returned and one of the area’s biggest supermarkets announced it was opening for business.

With armoured military vehicles guarding strategic points, food rations were being distributed by soldiers and volunteers in an orderly way, easing public anxiety after days when locals were left to defend themselves from armed gangs and arson attacks.

Deputy Interior Minister Patricio Rosende said more than 8,000 tons of relief aid have been distributed so far in affected areas, with another 174 tons ready for aerial and overland distribution on Thursday. The official death toll from the quake and the tsunami rose to 802. The majority of the new deaths were reported in the region north of Concepcion called Maule.

Officials in a fix

SANTIAGO: Top Chilean officials were in the crosshairs on Thursday for failing to warn coastal residents in time that a tsunami was bearing down on them after the earthquake. Military officials admitted on Sunday they had made a mistake in failing to issue an early warning. The navy has acknowledged that the warning it sent to President Michelle Bachelet lacked clarity. “The epicentre is on land, so there should be no tsunami,” was the information the navy sent to Bachelet.