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Chile quake: Looting and hoarding on the streets

Near Concepcion, many continue living outside as soldiers try to keep order amid food and gas shortages.


The archipelago of Juan Fernandez, more than 930 miles from the coast in the Pacific Ocean, was hit by a 15-meter tidal wave an hour after the earthquake, which its residents had barely felt. The tsunami there flooded several miles of Robinson Crusoe island, the only populated island, with 840 inhabitants. More than a dozen people died and more remain missing.

Entire towns along the coast have disappeared. Ruben Diaz, a forest technician from Concepcion who had arrived in Santiago the night before the earthquake, said that small fishing hamlets like Caleta Tumbes, in Talcahuano Bay, were completely obliterated.

“It has about 500 inhabitants, and most everyone was able to escape the waves by fleeing to the hillside. But they remain there — they have nowhere to go. Their town completely disappeared,” he said.

Diaz has had sporadic telephone communication with his wife, who remained in the large worker district in Concepcion where they live with their children. She said their neighborhood lacks water and electricity and the local supermarket was completely cleaned out of food on Saturday evening. Whatever was left was looted on Sunday morning.

With communications scarce and poor, people are flocking to bus terminals in Santiago to try to travel south to check on their relatives. However, no buses have been able to leave yet. The highways and bridges are damaged and there are numerous detours.

Monserrat Capdevila, a translator in Santiago, has barely received any news of her uncle, aunt and their three teenage children who live in a district on the outskirts of Concepcion, right past the bridge that connects that city to Talcahuano. One of the walls of their home crashed down during the earthquake and since then, the family has been living out of its car.

Their house is not only uninhabitable, it also lacks gas for cooking and heating, water and electricity. Communication with their relatives in Santiago has been sporadic and poor, and Capdevila worries about how they are getting by.

“There is only one supermarket near them and it was closed after the quake. Then it was completely looted so there is nothing there anymore. I don't know what or how they are eating, and my uncle is a diabetic,” she said.

Her uncle was hospitalized Friday night in Concepcion and spent the earthquake alone in the hospital. One of his sons went to get him the following morning and found his father standing in the hallway connected to a bag of serum. There were no beds or stretchers available.

“We don't know how they will live. Going to Concepcion or Talcahuano is useless, because there is nothing there anymore,” said Capdevila.

Meanwhile, an expert rescue force that recently assisted in efforts in Haiti flew to Concepcion on Sunday to try to rescue some 50 people still trapped in a 15-story building that crumbled to the ground. The building — which opened just last year— collapsed to three floors.

In Santiago, a number of new apartment buildings in the Maipu district are in danger of falling down or have been rendered too dangerous to inhabit. The apartments were brand new, and only half of them had been sold. Their owners are outraged and since Saturday have been sleeping on the street, waiting for some explanation from the construction firm.

On Sunday evening, a newly constructed building in the Nunoa district was evacuated for fear it would collapse. In other areas of Santiago similar situations are taking place, suggesting building contractors have been lax about regulations. Theere are strict construction codes in place to make all installations resistant to tremors.

There is already talk of taking these firms to court once the emergency is over.