Authorities: More than 700 killed in Chile quake

(AP) - Chile's president sent the army to helppolice attack looting on Sunday and appealed for international helpin the wake of an earthquake that shattered cities and killed atleast 708 people.

President Michelle Bachelet announced the sharply higher newdeath toll after a six-hour meeting with aides and emergencyofficials struggling to cope with one of the most powerfulearthquakes in centuries.

"We face a catastrophe of such unthinkable magnitude that itwill require a giant effort" for Chile to recover, Bachelet told anews conference at the presidential palace, which itself sufferedminor cracks in Saturday's magnitude-8.8 quake.

She said that a growing number of people were listed as missingand she signed a decree giving the military over security in theprovince of Concepcion, where looters have pillaged supermarkets,gas stations, pharmacies and banks.

The president, who leaves office on March 11, also said thecountry would accept some of the offers of aid that have poured infrom around the world.

She said the country needs field hospitals and temporarybridges, water purification plants and damage assessment experts -as well as rescuers to help relieve workers who have been laboringfrantically for more than a day.

Officials earlier had said about 300 were known dead, with500,000 homes severely damaged.

A tsunami caused by the quake that swept across the Pacifickilled several people on a Chilean island and devastated overcoastal communities near the epicenter, but caused little damage inother countries, after precautionary evacuations of hundreds ofthousands of people. The tsunami warning was lifted a day after theearthquake.

Police said more than 100 people died in Concepcion, the largestcity near the epicenter with more than 200,000 people. Theuniversity was among the buildings that caught fire around the cityas gas and power lines snapped. Many streets were littered withrubble from edifices and inmates escaped from a nearby prison.

Police used water cannon and tear gas to scatter people whoforced open the doors of the Lider supermarket in Concepcion,hauling away everything from diapers to dehydrated milk to akitchen stove.

Across the Bio Bio River in San Pedro, others cleared out ashopping mall. A video store was set ablaze, two automatic tellermachines were broken open, a bank was robbed and a supermarketemptied, its floor littered with mashed plums, scattered dog foodand smashed liquor bottles.

The largest building damaged in Concepcion was a newly opened15-story apartment that toppled backward, trapping an estimated 60people inside apartments where the floors suddenly became verticaland the contents of every room slammed down onto rear walls.

"It fell at the moment the earthquake began," said 4th Lt.Juan Schulmeyer of Concepcion's 7th Firefighter Company, pointingto where the foundation collapsed. A full 24 hours later, only 16people had been pulled out alive, and six bodies had beenrecovered.

Rescuers heard a woman call out at 11 p.m. Saturday from whatseemed like the 6th floor, but hours later they were making slowprogress in reaching her. Rescuers were working with two power sawsand an electric hammer on a generator, but their supply of gas wasrunning out and it was taking them a frustrating hour and a half tocut each hole through the concrete.

"It's very difficult working in the dark with aftershocks, andinside it's complicated. The apartments are totally destroyed. Youhave to work with great caution," said Paulo Klein, who wasleading a group of rescue specialists from Puerto Montt. They flewin on an air force plane with just the equipment they could carry.Heavy equipment was coming later along with 12 other rescuers.

The quake tore apart houses, bridges and highways, and Chileansnear the epicenter were thrown from their beds by the force of themega-quake, which was felt as far away as Sao Paulo in Brazil -1,800 miles (2,900 kilometers) to the east.

The full extent of damage remained unclear. Ninety aftershocksof magnitude 5 or greater shuddered across the disaster proneAndean nation within 24 hours of the initial quake. One was nearlyas powerful as Haiti's devastating Jan. 12 earthquake.

In the village of Reumen, a tractor trailer slammed into adangling pedestrian overpass and 40 tons of concrete and steelcrunched the truck, covering Chile's main highway with smashedgrapes, tomatoes and cucumbers - one of several overpasses toppledalong the highway.

Truck driver Jaime Musso, 53, thought his truck was beingbuffeted by strong winds and by the time he saw the overpasshanging down over Highway 5 there was no chance of stopping, so heaimed for the spot where he thought he would cause the least damageand brought down the overpass onto his truck. He said he survived"by millimeters."

As night fell Saturday, about a dozen men and children sataround a bonfire in the remains of their homes in Curico, a town122 miles (196 kilometers) south of the capital, Santiago.

"We were sleeping when we felt the quake, very strongly. I gotup and went out the door. When I looked back my bed was covered inrubble," said survivor Claudio Palma.

In the capital Santiago, 200 miles (325 kilometers) to thenortheast of the epicenter, the national Fine Arts Museum was badlydamaged and an apartment building's two-story parking lot pancaked,smashing about 50 cars.

Santiago's damaged airport managed to receive five flights onSunday, though no outbound flights were possible. The subway alsopartially reopened.

Chile's main seaport, in Valparaiso, was closed while damage wasassessed. Two oil refineries shut down. The state-run Codelco, theworld's largest copper producer, halted work at two of its mines,but said it expected them to resume operations quickly.

The jolt set off a tsunami that swamped San Juan Bautistavillage on Robinson Crusoe Island off Chile, killing at least fivepeople and leaving 11 missing, said Guillermo de la Masa, head ofthe government emergency bureau for the Valparaiso region.

On the mainland, several huge waves inundated part of the majorport city of Talcahuano, near hard-hit Concepcion. A large boat wasswept more than a block inland.

State television showed scenes of devastation in coastal towns,where houses were blasted away by water, leaving scraps of wood andmetal - and complaints of homeless quake victims that officials hadnot yet brought water or food.

The surge of water raced across the Pacific, setting off alarmsirens in Hawaii, Polynesia and Tonga, but the tsunami waves provedsmall and did little damage as they reached as far as Japan.

Robert Williams, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey,said the Chilean quake was hundreds of times more powerful thanHaiti's magnitude-7 quake, though it was deeper and cost far fewerlives.

The largest earthquake ever recorded struck the same area ofChile on May 22, 1960. The magnitude-9.5 quake killed 1,655 peopleand made 2 million homeless. Saturday's quake matched a 1906temblor off the Ecuadorean coast as the seventh-strongest everrecorded in the world.

sorry to interrupt
your first 20 are free
Access to News 12 is free for Optimum, Comcast®, Spectrum Networks® and Service ElectricSM customers.
Please enjoy 20 complimentary views of articles, photos, and videos during the next 30 days.
you have reached your 20 view limit
Access to News 12 is free for Optimum, Comcast®, Spectrum Networks® and Service ElectricSM customers.
Please login or create an account to continue enjoying News12.
Our sign-up page is undergoing maintenance and is not currently available. However, you will be given direct access to while we complete our upgrade.
When we are back up and running you will be prompted at that time to complete your sign in. Until then, enjoy the local news, weather, traffic and more that's "as local as local news gets."