Lawlessness won't be tolerated, Chilean president says
March 2, 2010 10:20 a.m. EST
Santiago, Chile (CNN) -- Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said all emergency measures should be in place by Tuesday, three days after an 8.8-magnitude earthquake destroyed large swaths of the central and southern parts of the nation.
Speaking at a Tuesday morning news conference, Bachelet said the looting and lawlessness seen in the city of Concepcion and other areas will not be allowed.
"We have seen images that are, frankly, intolerable," Bachelet said. "We want to make it clear that it won't be accepted."
The government will "apply the full force of the law," she said.
The president's comments came after another restless night in Concepcion, where stores have been ransacked in front of soldiers standing guard nearby and neighborhood residents have set up armed security committees.
The unrest has broken out as thousands of desperate residents in southern and central Chile remained without food, water, electricity, gas and other basic services in the wake of the temblor.
More than 13,000 soldiers were being dispatched to secure order, Bachelet said.
"What worries us the most today is to provide security and tranquility to the nation," Bachelet said. "We ask for understanding and patience because the aid will arrive."
But some of that aid was hung up Tuesday morning at a military checkpoint on the Itata Route about 12 miles (20 km) outside of Concepcion. Images broadcast by CNN Chile, CNN's partner network in the nation, showed at least 12 semitractor trailers filled with aid stopped at the checkpoint. Dozens of other vehicles were seen lined up stretching to the horizon behind the trucks.
One truck driver said he had been waiting for four hours.
An unidentified army captain interviewed at the checkpoint said if it were up to him the convoy would pass, but he had to wait for approval from the National Emergency Office.
"We haven't received any aid," Concepcion resident Jacqueline Van Rysselberge said Tuesday morning.
On Monday night, she had complained about the lack of security.
"We don't want to spend one more night in the darkness and in fear," she said on CNN Chile. "We are no longer hungry, we are so scared."
See scenes of devastation from the quake
While that drama played out, rescuers in the hardest-hit areas, including Concepcion and the Maule and Bio Bio regions, continued to scramble to reach possible survivors.
The death toll stood at 723 Tuesday, with 544 reported killed in Maule, where a sewer system collapsed and several water towers were close to toppling, the National Emergency Office said. The death tally was expected to climb, officials said.
Although damage was significant in Santiago, the nation's capital, electricity and water were restored to much of the city by late Monday and many residents could use their cell phones and other conveniences. About 90 percent of the city's stores were open.
In the quake's immediate aftermath, more than 1.5 million people had been without power in and around Santiago, which is about 270 miles northeast of Concepcion.
Rescuers from Santiago -- recently returned from a stint in quake-ravaged Haiti -- were working to free residents who were trapped in a 15-story building in Concepcion, about 70 miles from the earthquake's epicenter.
Fire commander Juan Carlos Subercaseaux confirmed Monday three people were trapped inside the collapsed building, said CNN Chile. Rescuers said they heard banging and yelling from apartment 610.
There was no immediate word Tuesday on their fate.
Authorities believe 40 or 50 people could be inside the building, but did not know whether they were alive.
Video on CNN Chile showed a woman's body being removed from the building's seventh floor Monday afternoon.
Bachelet said Monday the government had reached an agreement with the country's major supermarkets under which they will give away basic foods they have in stock to those affected by the quake.
Chile has received offers of international aid and will accept the help that it needs, Bachelet said.
The nation's ambassador to the United States, Jose Goni, listed Chile's top priorities Monday afternoon.
"After a detailed assessment of the situation, the Chilean government has requested aid from the U.S. government consisting essentially of field hospitals, power generators, water-purification plants, rescue teams, medical crews, tents, satellite telephones, temporary infrastructure for people in need and dialysis autonomous systems," Goni said.
The United Nations also said Monday that Chile had requested international assistance and indicated it is ready to help.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Santiago for a brief visit Tuesday on a previously scheduled trip through Latin America. She had originally been scheduled to arrive Monday.
Clinton brought with her 20 satellite phones and a technician, part of the aid the United States will provide to Chile.
More than 90 aftershocks had been recorded, ranging from 4.9 to 6.9 in magnitude.
Bachelet said Saturday that some 2 million people had been affected. The Chilean Red Cross reported that some 500,000 homes sustained considerable damage.
The armed forces were available to help with security and the distribution of food, she said.
President-elect Sebastian Pinera sought to rally spirits in nationally televised remarks Sunday night, announcing a reconstruction plan called "Up With Chile."
"We will raise Chile," he said. "It's not going to be a short task. It's not going to be easy. It will require a lot of effort, a lot of resources, and a lot of time."