Tsunami alert rattles quake-hit Chile

A tsunami alert sent terrified Chileans running for higher ground on Wednesday, while a surge of troops finally brought order to the quake-hit second city of Concepción after rampant looting.

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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 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 monster 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 down into the devastated seaside resort of Constitución 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.”

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 Concepción, 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.

‘We have received nothing’
But families in the more remote parts of the surrounding Maule and Bio Bio regions complained that they were being ignored and called desperately for supplies and medicine for children suffering from fevers and other ailments.

“In the countryside, we have received nothing,” said Juana Rodriguez, a resident of Puerta Verde, a hamlet of 36 families not far from Constitución.

“We need water, diapers, milk,” she pleaded.

The government has raised the toll from Saturday’s 8.8-magnitude quake to 799, but that figure—mostly thought to be victims of the tsunami—was expected to rise sharply once coastal areas accounted for hundreds of missing.

In Constitución, before Wednesday’s tsunami alert came, sobbing relatives visited the morgue to identify swollen remains.
Seven unidentified corpses in advanced stages of decomposition were listed as “NN”, or “No Name”.

“Most of the bodies are badly bloated and mutilated, difficult to identify. The stench is terrible,’ said an army lieutenant. “We’re expecting more,” said the officer, who would not give his name but whose lapel read Gutierrez.

The handwritten list on a large white board propped against the morgue fence showed 78 dead from the tsunami that razed low-lying areas of a town that was a holiday paradise before disaster struck.

The head of the mayor’s office said around 100 people were confirmed dead but that at least 300 more were missing and feared dead in Constitución alone.

Despite being one of Latin America’s richest countries, Chile has struggled to cope with the scale of a catastrophe thought to have cost the country tens of billions of dollars.

‘The reconstruction task will be enormous’
President Michelle Bachelet, who has deployed 14 000 troops to the disaster zone to help distribute food and keep order, addressed the nation again on Wednesday, laying out in detail the extent of the damage.

“The reconstruction task will be enormous,” said Bachelet, admitting that many of Chile’s lifeline industries from agriculture to tourism, and from fishing to trade had been decimated by the disaster.

“We will work so that the country emerges from the ruins,” she said in a defiant rallying cry to her battered nation, where one of the biggest quake’s on record has affected an estimated two million of the 16-million population.—AFP

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