Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet
spoke during in a news conference in Santiago, Chile, on Tuesday.
By Ginger Thompson and Alexei Barrionuevo
The New York Times
SANTIAGO, Chile — As smaller tremors continued to jolt this earthquake-ravaged country, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton flew into Chile’s damaged main airport on Tuesday morning, bearing a handful of satellite phones and promises of more help.
Mrs. Clinton and the Chilean president, Michelle Bachelet, embraced as they met and later held a news conference to outline Chile’s needs and American assistance three days after one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded toppled homes and knocked out roads and power throughout the country.
President Bachelet said her list of requests included field hospitals, portable dialysis machines, temporary bridges to plastic tarps that can be used to build tents, water desalination systems and communications equipment.
Mrs. Clinton said the United States was already preparing to send eight water-purification units, temporary bridges, a field hospital and other medical supplies.
Mrs. Clinton brought 25 satellite telephones and handed one to Ms. Bachelet during the news conference. “We’ll be here to help when others leave,” she said, “because we are committed to this partnership and this friendship with Chile.”
President Bachelet’s public outreach for assistance comes in the face of growing criticism that her government was slow in responding and asking for help. Ms. Bachelet has said her government needed time to assess its needs, but the delay came at a cost.
Tens of thousands of people remain without supplies of food, drinking water and shelter, and reports of looting and other lawlessness are increasing. In Concepción, one of the hardest-hit cities, thousands of government troops were sent to restore order, extending an overnight curfew until midday.
Ms. Bachelet said that she still was not able to give specific figures on the scope of the damage, but that projections have gone as high as $30 billion. She said an estimated 500,000 houses had been destroyed, and serious damage had been done to numerous bridges, roads, ports and public transportation stations. The country’s main wine-growing area was hard hit, and the level of damage is being assessed for the broader agricultural industry. Chile is a large exporter of produce during the North American winter.
When pressed for a dollar amount for recovery, Ms. Bachelet sighed. “All I can say is it’s going to be a lot,” she said.
“Chile has the capacity,” she said, “but I think it’s going to take a long time, and it will mean a whole lot of money.”
Ms. Bachelet has just 10 days left in office as president, leaving her successor, Sebastián Piñera, little time to get up to speed on governing. One official in the current administration, who did not have authorization to speak on the record, suggested that the looming transition was already complicating the response.
Residents also feared that the transition would make the aid effort bumpy.
“Soon, people are going to start organizing and demanding that they fulfill the many promises they have made on television and the radio,” said Jesse Salazar, 49, who watched over his sister-in-law’s belongings as she packed up boxes to move from her damaged home.
The powerful quake that jolted Chileans awake on Saturday has left the country reeling. Collapsed bridges and damaged roadways have made it difficult to even get to some areas. Downed phone lines and cellular towers have made it impossible to communicate. And many residents in the most damaged areas have not only taken food from supermarkets, but also robbed banks, set fires and engaged in other forms of lawlessness.
Chilean newspapers quoted Ms. Bachelet on Tuesday as saying that the situation in Concepción was “under control,” even though reports indicated that most of the city was still without electricity, phone service or running water.
The reported death toll from the quake rose slightly to 723, but officials say Chile will need weeks to determine a more accurate number. Witnesses have said that entire fishing communities hugging the coast were wiped away by pummeling waves that followed the initial shock, with houses and boats piled atop one another and some homes swept out to sea like driftwood.
“The villages have almost disappeared,” said Paula Saez of the aid group World Vision, who toured part of the area by helicopter. “There’s nothing. I cannot believe this is happening.” The quake has also exposed the fact, experts say, that although Chile is one of the most developed countries in the region, it is also one of the most unequal, with huge pockets of urban and rural poor, who suffered most in the quake.
“It’s the poorest Chileans who live near the epicenter,” said Carolina Bank, a Chilean-born sociology professor at Brooklyn College.
It was not just the violent shaking that tore Chile apart, but also the surge of waves that swept in along the coast, damaging homes like that of Edmundo Muñoz, 44, and his family, in Constitución. “Everything was destroyed,” he said.
A growing perception has begun to set in among many residents that the country — considered Latin America’s most earthquake-ready — was not as well prepared as it had thought.
In Santiago, the capital, those left homeless after their brand-new and supposedly earthquake-resistant apartments suffered severe structural damage were furious. Chileans are wondering aloud why food is not getting to the hungry faster and why the politicians and soldiers seem to have been caught flatfooted.
“The government has been very slow to respond,” complained Victor Pérez, 48, who was sleeping in a tent with his girlfriend outside their ruined Santiago apartment building. “We have no water or lights, and most of the stores nearby are out of food.”
The frustration could be heard on Chilean radio, where residents called in to complain that government provisions had been slow to arrive and that almost all markets and stores had been stripped bare of food, water and other supplies.
The government, which declared a state of emergency Sunday, said it never dismissed outside assistance but wanted to see how bad things were first.
“Experience over the years and in prior earthquakes, as well as from international cooperation efforts like in Haiti, have left us lessons,” Foreign Minister Mariano Fernández told reporters. “We have to be very precise about what our needs are in order for the assistance to be of any use.”
As each day passes, it becomes clearer in Chile that those needs are huge.
While the effects of the earthquake appear worst in outlying areas, the capital itself received a significant jolt, as Mirko Boskovic, 43, a postal worker, could attest. “It looks like the Tower of Pisa,” Mr. Boskovic said, gazing at his teetering apartment building, supposedly seismically secure, which leaned precariously at a 45-degree angle and was ringed by police tape.
On Monday, the United Nations said that the government had asked for generators, water filtration equipment and field hospitals, as well as experts to assess just how much damage was caused by Saturday’s earthquake, which with a magnitude of 8.8 is one of the largest ever measured.
“Everything is now moving,” said Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the United Nations Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “We are looking immediately to match the needs.”
The economic impact of the quake stands to be far-reaching. Wineries with severe structural damage and loss of equipment will have diminished capacity to harvest grapes or make and store wine, a significant Chilean export.
The Maule Valley, Chile’s oldest wine region, lies not far from the epicenter and suffered considerable damage. Chilean officials have said that the majority of the deaths recorded so far were in that area.
“There is much destruction,” Mario Lobo, director of Los Vascos in the Colchagua Valley, north of the epicenter, said in an e-mail message on Monday. “We are looking after our people first to provide the neediest with shelter, water and food. There is still no electricity, water or any type of phone service.”
Miguel Torres, a Spanish wine company with holdings in the Curico Valley just north of the Maule, reported no casualties but major damage.
“The losses are significant at the winery: around 300 casks smashed, 1 stainless steel vat with a capacity of 100,000 liters has been cracked, losing all the wine, thousands of bottles destroyed,” the company said in a statement. “But luckily the main structure of the buildings has withstood the quake.”
Ginger Thompson reported from Santiago, and Alexei Barrionuevo from Angol, Chile. Reporting was contributed by Marc Lacey from Lima, Peru; Charles Newbery from Buenos Aires; Aaron Nelsen and Pascale Bonnefoy from Santiago, Chile; Tomás Munita from Constitución, Chile; and Eric Asimov, Catrin Einhorn and Jack Healy from New York.
See Related: RESCUERS SEARCH FOR CHILE QUAKE SURVIVORS
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