Troops fired tear gas and imposed a curfew on Monday to stop looters running off with trolley-loads of goods from the wreckage of Chile’s quake, as rescuers scrabbled through rubble for survivors.
Chile’s government scrambled to provide aid to thousands of homeless in coastal towns devastated by a massive earthquake and tsunamis as 10 000 troops moved into stricken areas to quell looting.
The government sharply raised the death toll to 711 from Saturday’s 8,8-magnitude quake as harrowing scenes of destruction emerged in isolated towns swamped by the giant waves that were triggered by one of the strongest earthquakes in a century.
With many people missing and some communities in the worst-hit central region of the South American country still largely cut off by mangled roads, President Michelle Bachelet said the death toll was certain to rise.
Surging waves ruined houses and smashed cars in fishing villages on the country’s long Pacific coast. In the town of Constitucion alone, about 350 people died, state TV quoted emergency officials as saying.
A night-time curfew went into effect in the Maule region and the heavily damaged town of Concepción, where hundreds of looters ransacked stores for food and other goods. Looting also broke out in parts of the capital, Santiago.
“We don’t have water or anything. No one has appeared with help and we need more police to keep order. There are many people here who are robbing,” said a 78-year-old woman, who identified herself as Ana, in the badly hit city of Talca, 250km south of Santiago.
In Concepción, angry survivors camping along roads took out their frustration on firefighters who were distributing drinking water in thermoses and tea kettles, damaging their vehicles.
The damage from the quake could cost up to $30-billion, equivalent to about 15% of Chile’s GDP, said Eqecat, a firm that helps insurers model catastrophe risks.
Chile’s biggest copper mines affected by the quake slowly resumed operations but analysts said limited power supplies could curtail exports and push up copper prices further.
Chile’s fourth-largest copper mine, El Teniente, which accounts for more than 7% of national output, resumed operations on Sunday. The nearby Andina mine was also due to resume operations but analysts feared power outages could still affect output.
The Anglo-American Los Bronces mine also resumed production, a union leader told Reuters, but there was no word on when the company’s El Soldado mine would restart.
Japan said it was providing an emergency grant of $3-million, as well as sending tents, generators, water cleaners and other emergency gear, while China pledged $1-million.
Santiago’s airport started to receive international flights, which had been suspended after the quake. Officials said the runways were unscathed but the terminal building was damaged.
Analysts said Chile’s peso currency was likely to come under selling pressure as investors assess the impact on what is considered Latin America’s best-run economy.
Some economists predicted a deep impact on Chile’s economy after the quake damaged its industrial and agricultural sectors in the worst-hit regions. — AFP, Reuters