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Chile Battles Lawlessness, Desperation After Massive Earthquake

  • Michael Bowman

Chile's President Michelle Bachelet (r) talks to residents in a destroyed area of Concepcion, some 100 km (62 miles) south of the epicenter of a huge 8.8-magnitude earthquake that rocked Chile on February 27, 2010.

Chile's President Michelle Bachelet (r) talks to residents in a destroyed area of Concepcion, some 100 km (62 miles) south of the epicenter of a huge 8.8-magnitude earthquake that rocked Chile on February 27, 2010.

Chilean authorities are struggling to maintain order, distribute supplies, and rescue survivors after Saturday's powerful earthquake that killed more than 720 people and damaged or destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes and buildings. President Michelle Bachelet is attempting to rally her nation in the face of tragedy and devastation, while appealing to the international community for assistance.

Shock and grief have given way to desperation and lawlessness in some areas hardest-hit by the 8.8-magnitude earthquake. Many looters made off with food and basic supplies. Others saw an opportunity for large-scale theft, carrying away home appliances on their backs.

Authorities declared a nighttime curfew in several municipalities, and President Bachelet sent thousands of additional security forces to restore order.

In Concepcion, Chile's second-largest city, some residents have taken local security matters into their own hands, setting up impromptu roadblocks to keep track of all who seek to enter their neighborhoods.

Many are predicting dire times ahead.

One man says that the real crisis is about to begin, with people out of work and hungry.

A woman says there is no electricity, no water, and no food at all because of the looting. She says everything has been stolen from the supermarkets, the small shops, and the pharmacies.

The chaos comes as emergency responders continue efforts to find quake survivors trapped beneath rubble or unable to escape damaged structures.

The devastation appears most-severe in Chilean coastal communities. First jolted by the earthquake, many seaside towns were then struck by surging waves several meters high that washed away homes and carried an untold number of people to their deaths.

One survivor says the water swallowed him and his wife, and swept them away.

He says he cannot find her anywhere. He says he has searched everywhere, including the local hospital, but to no avail.

President Bachelet has appealed for international assistance, including temporary bridges, field hospitals, electric generators and water purification systems. Until such aid arrives, she is appealing for national unity and a sense of common purpose.

She says Chile faces a massive catastrophe that will require an enormous effort by both the public and private sectors to overcome. She adds that the effort will be required now and into the future.

This was the second major earthquake to strike the Americas this year. Although stronger than January's temblor in Haiti, the Chilean quake has inflicted a far-lower death toll than in Port-au-Prince, where more than 200,000 people are believed to have perished.

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