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Some Chile quake areas awaiting aid a week later
CONCEPCION, Chile |
CONCEPCION, Chile (Reuters) - Some Chileans were still waiting for government aid on Saturday, a week after one of the strongest earthquakes on record and a roaring tsunami killed hundreds and ravaged cities and villages along the South American country's south-central coastline.
Homeless and desperate, survivors voiced anger and frustration at outgoing President Michelle Bachelet's handling of the disaster, saying her administration was too slow to react after the 8.8-magnitude quake struck early on February 27.
"There has been an earthquake of disorganization on the part of the national and local governments," said Fernando Valenzuela, 44, who is living with his wife in a tent city in the small town of Dichato, near the epicenter.
"This is a case of bad governmental management and organization ... 99 percent of the help we have got has been from the Chilean people, and only 1 percent from the government," he added, as others cooked meals over open fires.
The area around Dichato was devastated by the tsunami, which washed large ships as far as 1.2 miles inland. Wooden homes splintered like matchsticks and, a week later, crushed cars still sat at odd angles amid piles of debris.
Cargo planes landed around 19 miles away with water, food and bedding. The government also dispatched two navy ships carrying a combined 120 tons of food and other supplies, but the aid had yet to reach some tent cities.
The government said on Saturday basic services such as water and electricity were gradually being restored in disaster areas but acknowledged that the situation was far from normal.
In Constitucion, a coastal city that was engulfed by massive waves, 25 percent of the population remained without running water. In Bio Bio, one of the hardest hit regions, 66 percent of the population still had no electricity.
Many outraged survivors say many lives could have been saved had people been warned the tsunamis were coming. The navy acknowledged its alert system broke down and fired the head of its catastrophe warning unit.
That was one of a series of blunders. The government is revising the death toll after authorities mistakenly tallied scores of missing people who later turned up alive.
So far, 452 victims have been identified. But the government, which backed off a previous estimate that put the death toll of more than 800, has not given figures for unidentified bodies or missing people.
SPORADIC LOOTING PERSISTS
President-elect Sebastian Pinera, a billionaire businessmen who will be sworn-in on March 11 in a toned-down ceremony, has pledged to overhaul Chile's National Emergency Office. The agency, known as Onemi, has been a magnet for criticism for botching the rescue effort.
Some criticized Bachelet for not putting troops on the streets immediately after the quake in Chile, long viewed as Latin America's most developed country for its stable economy and efficient social services.
Some feel Bachelet, a socialist, was reluctant to end her presidency with the military patrolling because it would conjure up memories of the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, who ruled from 1973 to 1990.
"Michelle Bachelet did not want to finish her term with the army on the streets," said Ivan Gonzalez Ruiz, owner of a bakery that was looted in the port city of Talcahuano. "But it was absolutely necessary, they needed to stop the looting and she waited too long."
The widespread looting that broke out in several cities in the days after the quake has mostly been quelled. But looters were still breaking into factories on Friday in Talcahuano.
Dozens of people used everything from cars to baby strollers to cart off boxes of canned fish. One looter who had been caught lay face down in the dirt with his shirt over his head and his hands tied behind his back.
Bachelet, a pediatrician turned politician, flew to the quake-hit zone again on Saturday, two days after she intervened during a visit to the area to treat a man suffering an epileptic seizure.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who on Friday pledged $10 million for the relief effort, also toured the area, which has been rattled by dozens of strong aftershocks.
The government has shied away from quantifying the damage caused by the quake, which destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes, wrecked bridges and roads, and cracked modern buildings in the capital Santiago.
The streets of Santiago were packed with volunteers on Saturday collecting donations for the relief effort, which was also getting funds from a nonstop telethon on Chilean television that drew some of Latin America's biggest stars.
Chile's biggest copper mines were largely spared by the quake but its top two oil refineries were hit hard and remain offline, forcing the government to boost fuel imports. One is expected to be working next week, but the bigger Bio Bio refinery could take two or three months to resume operations, a union leader said on Saturday.
(Additional reporting by Ignacio Badal in Constitucion and Mica Rosenberg in Santiago; writing by Simon Gardner and Todd Benson; editing by Mohammad Zargham)
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