Along Chile's Roads, Scenes Of Wreckage

More than 700 people are now confirmed dead after Saturday's 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile. The epicenter was off the Pacific coast, near Concepcion, the country's second-biggest city. Reporter Annie Murphy is on the way to that city, and talks to host Guy Raz about the wreckage she's seen on the way: buckled highways, overpasses turned into rubble, and towns where damaged water systems have forced residents to start bucket brigades from the nearest natural water source.

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GUY RAZ, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

A nuclear energy renaissance could be just around the corner here in the U.S. with more money and more political support than at any other time in the past three decades. That story is coming up in a moment.

But first, an update from Chile. The sounds of water cannons spraying people in the earthquake-stricken city of Concepcion. Police tried to keep some residents from looting. But one woman said given the desperate circumstances, there is no other option.

Unidentified Woman: (Speaking foreign language).

RAZ: At least 700 people were killed and millions temporarily displaced after that 8.8 magnitude earthquake.

Reporter Annie Murphy is on the road, heading to Concepcion, the city closest to the epicenter. Right now, she's in the town of Renaico just south of Concepcion, and Annie, describe what the town looks like at the moment where you are.

ANNIE MURPHY: Well, right now, we're in the countryside. Renaico is a very small town. We're just passing through because the major highways have been rerouted. The damage to them is pretty extreme. We're seeing a lot of telephone poles down, overpasses fallen down, bridges out, sections of the road that have kind of - the pavement looks like it's rolled, kind of, and cracked.

RAZ: And you have been driving. You drove through Argentina yesterday.

MURPHY: Yes.

RAZ: What has the drive been like all along the way?

MURPHY: Everyone has been talking about the quake. They felt it in Beteloche(ph), which is on the other side of the Andes mountain range, hundreds of kilometers from Concepcion, and people were talking about how it woke them all up, was shaking their houses. Their pictures were falling down. I mean, it's been kind of the talk of the road.

And as we've been getting closer and closer, we've seen all the signs, people going down to the rivers with buckets so they can gather water. There's a real issue with water here, even in the places that people's houses are still standing or just slightly damaged. There's no water whatsoever, and it's very hot here today. I'd say it's 85, in some places, 90 degrees.

RAZ: So there's no water available in a lot of the towns you've been passing through, and what about damage to buildings and structures? Do those towns so far seem like they're pretty much intact?

MURPHY: As we're getting closer, we're seeing more damage, but for the most part, the structures are intact. We still are seeing, you know, the city blocks that are leveled that you've seen on television.

RAZ: Are you getting any sense whether aid supplies are coming in to some of the harder-hit areas?

MURPHY: We've been talking to people on the road that are coming from the north, from these areas that were hit hard, and that's what they're saying the main concern is right now. There aren't that many deaths, but that's - the big issue is supplies. There's no food, there's no water, and they're saying that the police and state haven't gotten to them yet.

Chile has a reputation as a very developed country, but that's mostly in the capital of Santiago. Outside of the capital, these are still very humble towns, and all the houses around me right now are very small, clapboard houses with tin roofs. These are people who lead very disconnected lives from the capital, and they really are being hit in a very extreme way, I think.

RAZ: I understand that President Michelle Bachelet has ordered the military to take control of security in the city of Concepcion, obviously, the city closest to the epicenter. Are you seeing any signs of military movement to that city?

MURPHY: No, I haven't seen any signs of the military whatsoever. We've seen a couple of police at checkpoints, but it's mostly just people looking out for each other. We really haven't seen an official presence.

RAZ: That's reporter Annie Murphy near the town of Renaico in southern Chile.

Annie, thank you.

MURPHY: Thank you.

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