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Chilean coastal town Dichato deals with double whammy

Residents worry about how to move on in a town that was once a favorite spot for sunbathing and water sports.

Another resident angry with the government's handling of things is Alejandro Moena, a professional soccer player. Moena, 30, lost his house to the tsunami and is helping with one of the several makeshift tent camps on the hills above Dichato. Outside the camp entrance, there is a carved piece of wood nailed to a tree that reads: “We Need Help, We Need Food."

Among his biggest complaints, Moena said that at least 10 trucks came into town to loot homes after the earthquake. The local police did catch some of them, but instead of arresting them, they only had to give back the things they took. “How can Chileans steal from people who have already lost so much? Nothing more ugly,” said Moena.

Dichato’s beach had long been one of the region’s favorite spots for sunbathing and water sports. But now it's littered with clothes, kitchen sinks, computer screens and a multitude of other objects.

Several towns suffered from the tsunami. After the tsunami struck Chile’s central coast, it moved on to Juan Fernandez Island where it wiped out nearly half the village. But Dichato is among the hardest hit.

Altogether, about 80 percent of the town has suffered damage from a tsunami that advanced some 800 meters into the town to engulf everything not on high ground.

Now, some residents pick through the debris hoping to recover personal items, like Ricardo Penaranda, 40, who was a waiter at the Puerto Laguna Verde. A popular seafood restaurant and bar on the beach, its two-story structure completely disappeared and all that is visible is the concrete foundation.

“Tourism may never come back. The water was clean, shellfish from here was clean — now the bay is full of cars, houses, other wreckage,” said Penaranda.

The mayor has said he is wary of rebuilding on site, and is instead advocating that the government should relocate the town to a safer spot.

An aftershock off the coast measured 5.9 on the Richter scale on Wednesday. A tsunami alert followed, and everyone in town knew what to do. But nobody was more prepared for the power of a tsunami than Orlando Puentes, a retired taxi driver.

Though his house escaped unscathed, Puentes, 71, and his wife and son have slept in their old, white, four-door Nissan car since the quake. Next to them in the car: suitcases and shopping bags filled with food. “There have been so many aftershocks, you never know,” said Puentes.