Sunday, February 28, 2010

Chile News Update: Quake Death Toll Rises As Rescuers Dig Through Rubble Amid Aftershocks

From The Times
March 1, 2010

Quake death toll rises as rescuers dig though rubble amid more aftershocks

Cars lie overturned after the highway they were travelling on was destroyed by the earthquake

(Marco Fredes/Reuters)

The death toll in Chile’s earthquake rose to more than 700 last night as rescue workers battled to find survivors trapped in the wreckage and powerful aftershocks battered the country. President Bachelet said that 708 people were known to have died in “a catastrophe of such unthinkable magnitude that it will require a giant effort for Chile to recover”.

She said that the Army would be brought in to aid the police against looters and would take control of Chile’s second city, Concepción.

Tens of thousands of Chileans were camped in tents and makeshift shelters, fearing that aftershocks would bring down more buildings after the 8.8-magnitude earthquake on Saturday destroyed airports, highways and buildings, and sent a tsunami across the Pacific.

About 400 deaths were in the seaside resort of Constitución, which was struck by the tsunami as well as the earthquake, according to the first reports to emerge from the coastal towns.

Concepción, which was 70 miles (110 kilometres) from the epicentre, was strewn with overturned cars, concrete blocks and lamp-posts, while the Bio Bio bridge collapsed. The city of 670,000 became the scene of the country’s biggest rescue operation. Last night rescue workers were picking through the debris of a collapsed 15-storey apartment building in the hope of finding survivors among more than 60 people trapped inside.

Rescue operations were complicated by the aftershocks, with more than 90 registered across the country in the 24 hours after the earthquake. The strongest reached 6.9 on the Richter scale.

Carmen Fernández, the director of the Interior Ministry’s National Emergency Office, warned residents to brace themselves, saying that the shocks could last “even months”.

The agency said that the earthquake had an impact from the desert region of Antofagasta, in the far north, to the Lakes region at the country’s southern tip. Few parts were untouched, with an estimated 2 million people affected and 1.5 million homes and buildings destroyed or badly damaged.

The death toll was likely to rise as rescue operations progressed, officials said. Power supplies remained widely disrupted.

In Concepción thousands of people spent Saturday and Sunday nights sleeping in temporary shelters made from bed sheets or cardboard boxes. Residents were still without water, electricity or phone lines, while fuel supplies were dwindling rapidly.

Police fought with looters who were raiding supermarkets for food. “People have gone days without eating,” one looter, Orlando Salazar, said. “The only option is to come here and get stuff for ourselves.” A bank was robbed in the city and electronics stores were emptied of plasma televisions and washing machines. Television images showed police pushing looters to the floor, while water cannons and teargas were deployed. A curfew was imposed in Concepción and Maule.

In the nearby city of Chillán more than 200 inmates escaped after the earthquake brought down a wall of their prison.

President Bachelet — who has only ten days left in office — said that she found it difficult to spell out the magnitude of the disaster, which she said would take several days to assess. “The power of Nature has again struck our country,” she said, declaring six of Chile’s 15 regions “catastrophe zones”.

The capital, Santiago, about 200 miles northwest of the epicentre, was plunged into near darkness as power lines were snapped and roofs came down. Santiago airport and the city subway remained closed yesterday and communications had failed, leaving residents struggling to locate friends and relatives.

Ninety per cent of buildings were destroyed in the 18th-century town of Curicó, 122 miles south of Santiago, according to a local radio station which set up a generator-powered newsroom in the main square.

The earthquake was felt as far away as São Paolo in Brazil, 1,800 miles to the northeast. Experts said that it was hundreds of times more powerful than that which hit Haiti in January.

Chile is one of Latin America’s wealthiest nations and is well prepared for earthquakes, with modern buildings designed to withstand the regular seismic activity in the region. In May 1960 Chile was devastated by the worst earthquake on record, which reached a magnitude of 9.5 and killed up to 6,000 people. It triggered a tsunami that reached as far as New Zealand.

The disaster raises a daunting challenge for the incoming President, Sebastián Piñera, the billionaire businessman who takes office on March 11. He swept to victory on a promise to revive the Chilean economy, but that task has become significantly greater with the damage suffered by the industrial and agricultural sectors.

Offers of aid poured in from the international community. Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, is to visit on Monday as part of a scheduled regional tour.

Britain, one of Chile’s biggest trade partners, said that it was ready to help. Gordon Brown said: “We will do whatever we can.”

Chile earthquake: Death toll rises, authorities race to assess damage

As the death toll from the Chile earthquake rises, relief organizations from around the world are set to help the South American nation pick up the pieces. But Chile's authorities say it will take them more time to assess the needs.

By Benjamin Witte Contributor
Christian Science Monitor
posted February 28, 2010 at 5:42 pm EST

Santiago, Chile —As the death toll from Saturday’s monster 8.8 Chile earthquake continues to rise, authorities in Chile are focusing relief efforts on the hardest-hit southern Bio Bio and Maule regions. So far some 2,000 police and military personnel have been deployed not only in rescue and recovery efforts but also to maintain order in what has become an increasingly chaotic disaster zone.

On Sunday afternoon, President Michelle Bachelet announced that the official death toll – previously 300 – now stands at 708. “We’re facing an emergency unlike anything else in Chile’s history,” she said.

Ms. Bachelet also declared an official “State of Emergency,” promising to deploy more soldiers to the area. But Chile's National Office of Emergencies and Information said international assistance will not be required until Chilean authorities can properly assess the overall damage. President Bachelet said in a nationalized television address Saturday night that authorities will not have a clear picture of the devastation for 48 to 72 hours.

Rescues and looting near epicenter

Local news outlets reported that 18 people were rescued Sunday from a collapsed apartment building in the Bio Bio capital of Concepcion, Chile’s second largest city after Santiago. Dozens in the downed, 15-story structure are still missing.

Recovery efforts were complicated Sunday by looting in Concepcion supermarkets and pharmacies.

Isolated incidents of looting have also taken place in Santiago, where supermarkets are receiving a flood of panicked shoppers.

Concepcion’s mayor, Jacqueline van Rysselberghe, called the situation “Dante-esque” and told Radio Cooperativa things are “getting out of control.”

“This is so complicated because we don’t know how many dead people there are. I think it’s more than they’ve announced,” she said.
Access to epicenter a problem

The magnitude 8.8 earthquake – the largest to hit Chile in a half century – struck at 3:34 a.m. Saturday morning and lasted more than two minutes. The epicenter is believed to be near Cauquenes, a small Bio Bio community close to the Maule border. Government officials admitted Sunday they still have no idea what the situation is like in Caquenes.

Access has been a major obstacle and has so far prevented aid organizations from reaching the disaster zone. The massive quake downed bridges throughout the country, including several along Chile’s vital north-south artery, Ruta 5. Santiago’s international airport also sustained damage but opened late Sunday to a limited traffic, Air Force Gen. Ricardo Ortega said.

International offers for help

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, has offered to coordinate an international aid effort, and it reports that the European Commission and Red Cross have together pledged some US$3.5 million.

“The UN made an offer but we have not received a reply from the government,” said OCHA spokesperson Stephanie Bunker. “The [Chilean] government has, as we know, good capacity and we’re waiting to see if they need any help.”

Andrea Cordoba of World Vision expects that with the airport finally open, aid groups will be able to begin delivering supplies – perhaps as early as Monday.

“The government is concentrating on just part of the response, setting up field hospitals. But the people that are still in the streets or in the hills looking for a safe place to stay need tents, sleeping bags, blankets, food, and, fundamentally, water,” says Ms. Cordoba. “People are desperate. Part of the reason they’re stealing is just the general chaos, but it’s also because they simply don’t have water to drink.”

Christian Science Monitor

Chile earthquake much stronger than Haiti's but far less damage. Why?

The Chile earthquake -- at a magnitude of 8.8 -- was much stronger than the one that hit Haiti, but casualties and damages appear to be far less. Why?

By Benjamin Witte and Sara Miller Llana Correspondent and Staff writer
posted February 27, 2010 at 7:36 pm EST
Santiago, Chile and Mexico City —

The earthquake that struck Chile was far stronger than the one that struck Haiti in January.

But, initial reports show that damage was much more contained. While the death toll of 214 is only preliminary and is expected to grow, it’s still a thousand times lower than that of Haiti’s.

One emergency official quoted by Reuters said the number of deaths was unlikely to increase dramatically.

Because of its long history with earthquakes, which has contributed to an earthquake “consciousness” in Chile, and infrastructure that is built to higher standards, many hope that Chile will be spared the vast destruction that struck Haiti, even as it deals with one of its worst natural disasters in decades.

“Chile has a long story of earthquakes, but I think this was the worst ever,” says Paula Saez, an aid worker at World Vision in Chile.

The 8.8-magnitude quake that struck about 200 miles south of Santiago, is being billed as one of the world’s largest in a century, but it will most likely not go down as one of the deadliest. In part, that’s because Chile sits in the “ring of fire” earthquake zone and is accustomed to massive temblors, including the largest on record, which hit in 1960 and registered 9.5.

A few more days until full damage is known

The government says that it might be another 72 hours before the real extent of the damage is known, as telecommunications are down in Concepcion, the city closest to the epicenter of the quake. Also, the earthquake impacted many rural areas, where the population is dispersed and hard to account for.

In downtown Santiago, a sense of calm prevailed, after initial panic. Residents began collecting debris that had fallen on the streets and attempted to reopen businesses by midday.

Chileans are well versed in what to do during earthquakes, with drills part of every child’s schooling. “Just in case” attitudes, which might seem obsessive in other parts of the world, are the norm here. One woman says she turns off the gas valve every time she leaves the house, just in case a quake strikes when she is out.

The Chilean National Emergency Office, which coordinates emergency responses, stresses that Chile is among the world’s most seismic. On its website the agency spells out how to prepare in the event of an earthquake.

That, as well as previous experience, helped many through this quake.

Leonel Araya, a doorman in Santiago who lost a child in a 1982 earthquake, says that he has learned from past experiences. “I’ve been through three big earthquakes, including a maremoto (tsunami) in the north. You learn from them, to be more humanitarian. To think about things better.”

He says he ran to open the door, to get his family under the frame to protect them.

“Everything else can fall,” he says. “I just tried to control the family, because you know, the family, the children, my wife, are really nervous. That’s one thing I learned. You need to keep them right next to you, because once, in an earthquake in 82, a son who’s no longer with me got away from me. And when I tried to grab him, he slipped out and was crushed by a wall.”

Silvia Vidalia, an elderly woman in a neighborhood in Santiago, also stressed the need to stay calm.

“The first thing you need to do is calm each other down. My husband, for example, who is 80-something, is very nervous. So the first thing I did was calm him down. And then, after that hellish shaking ended, we went downstairs because we live on the second floor. You have to find a safe place.”

Population less dense than Haiti

Chile will undoubtedly also be helped by the fact that the earthquake did not happen in as dense an area as Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where parts of the city and several government buildings were literally flattened. It will also be helped by better-enforced building codes, one of the most significant challenges in Haiti. A US Geological Survey researcher told Reuters that a low death toll could be attributed to strong building standards.

Maria Cristina Sepulveda, a pharmacist in Santiago, says she believes she survived because of the sturdiness of the buildings around her.

“It seems like where I live is very well built, because nothing happened to it. I’ve been there for 15 years. The old buildings are well built,” she says.

One of the challenges in the hours ahead will be the damage to infrastructure. Bridges have fallen and airports closed. Some areas are only reachable by helicopter, says Ms. Saez. She says the government is reporting that up to 400,000 people could be affected. The death toll could be higher since in many rural towns there are no hospitals to report figures.

It will also be a blow to the economy, especially given damage to the copper industry, the world’s largest.

“It’s the most difficult emergency that Chile has faced in a long time,” Saez says.

And the quake has, for now, left many in the nation stunned. After all, says Ms. Vidalia, no one can ever really be prepared. “We know this is a seismic country, but one’s never prepared.”

Factbox: Chile quake hits copper mines, ports and refineries

6:10pm EST

(Reuters) - Up to one-fifth of Chile's copper mine capacity was shut after the world's biggest producer was rocked by a huge earthquake on Saturday, but at least two mines in the quake-affected area resumed operations within 48 hours of the quake.

However, industry analysts still expect copper prices to rise because of potential disruption in power and transportation links to the mines.

The nation's oil refineries appeared to be at greater risk, with its largest plant located near the epicenter; two were forced to shut down for further investigation.

Following are details on the impact to energy and mining operations after the temblor that struck 70 miles northeast of Concepcion and about 200 miles south of Santiago.


State energy firm ENAP shut down both its 116,000 barrels per day (bpd) Bio oil refinery, which is located just north of the city of Concepcion, as well as its roughly 100,000 bpd Aconcagua refinery near the capital.

Mining Minister Santiago Gonzalez told Reuters officials were trying to assess structural damage to Bio Bio. ENAP said it was increasing diesel imports to meet demand. It said it had sufficient gasoline stocks to last two weeks and diesel stocks for 10 days.


With almost all major copper producers confirming their status after the quake, operations at mines producing more than 1 million metric tones a year -- near a fifth of the country's total 5.4 million metric tones last year -- were initially suspended by the quake, but they appeared undamaged.

Officials confirmed that the two biggest mines in the far north -- Escondida and Chuquicamata -- were unaffected, and a union leader said transport between Escondida and port facilities had not been disrupted.

State-run Codelco said its El Teniente complex was operating again on Sunday and that the Andina mine should also start, although sufficient power had not yet been restored late on Sunday. A company official said the pace of output recovery at El Teniente would depend on power supply.

El Teniente is the world's biggest underground copper mine with output of 404,000 metric tones in 2009.

Codelco's 435,000 metric tone per year Caletones smelter was also set to resume operations on Sunday, a spokesman said.

Anglo-American shut its Los Bronces and El Soldado mines, which together produce around 280,000 tonnes of copper annually, after the quake cut energy supplies, but a union leader said Los Bronces had resumed activity late on Saturday. He did not know if El Soldado was operating.

A company spokesman could not be reached on Sunday. Anglo-American has been planning to expand the 238,400 metric tones per year Los Bronces deposit.

No one could be reached at the company to clarify the situation at the mines on Sunday.

Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc said the quake did not damage its two mines, but said a power outage at its Candelaria mine had caused a temporary shutdown.

Xstrata and BHP Billiton said all their operations were running normally.


Smaller miners reported little impact. Barrick Gold Corp, Kinross Gold Corp and Breakwater said their mines had not been affected. Teck Resources Ltd said the quake had not impacted its Andacollo and Quebrada mines, though they could still be hit by power supply restrictions.


The Chilean copper-exporting port of San Antonio was closed, but Codelco officials said roads leading to the port were in good condition. The port of Valparaiso, which is not used for metals exports, was also closed.

The key copper-exporting ports of Antofagasta and Mejillones were operating normally.

Here is an overview of major mines and smelters in Chile:

Mine Location Operator Output Status KM Dist from


El Teniente 75km S of Santiago Codelco 404,000 ops resumed 240

Andina 50km NE of Santiago Codelco 210,000 ops suspend 320

Los Bronces 65km NE of Santiago Anglo-American 235,000 ops resumed 335

El Soldado 132km N of Santiago Anglo-American 50,000 ops suspend 400

Los Pelambres 200km NE of SantiagoAntofagasta 310,000 n/a 480

Candelaria FreeportMcMoRan185,000 power outage 650

Escondida far north BHP Billiton 780,000 ops normal 750

Collahuasi far north Xstrata/Anglo 435,000 ops normal 1,000

Chuquicamata far north Codelco 565,000 ops normal 1,140

Top smelters Near Operator Capacity Status KM Dist from


Caletones El Teniente Codelco 435,000 ops suspend 250

Potrerillos Codelco 195,000 ops normal 750

Altonorte Antofagasta Port Xstrata 268,014 n/a 926

(Reporting by Alonso Soto in Santiago and Euan Rocha in Toronto)

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