Chile's Troops Move In To Quell Looting

The 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile caused catastrophic damage and killed more than 700 people. Some victims have raided supermarkets and pharmacies in search of food and water. Reporter Annie Murphy talks to Steve Inskeep about the city of Concepcion, where the military is in control.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And Im Steve Inskeep.

Were going to hear the story this morning of a major city close to the center of the earthquake in Chile. The 8.8 magnitude quake did not kill as many people as the disaster in Haiti. It did cause catastrophic damage, and some people have raided supermarkets and pharmacies in search of food and water. Reporter Annie Murphy has made it to the heavily damaged city of Concepcion. She's on the line. And Annie, what have you seen this morning?

ANNIE MURPHY: People are getting back out in the streets a little bit. There's significant destruction in the city, but it's not leveled, by any means. The majority of the city's still intact. There are some older buildings that have collapsed - in some places, city blocks. There's one apartment building that was 15 stories high. It went over on its side and then split in half. They're still trying to rescue people from the building. Those are kind of the major incidents in the city. Otherwise, Im seeing a lot of people looking for food, water; waiting for gas, hoping that it'll show up so that they can drive their cars to look for water.

INSKEEP: Some people will have heard your report earlier this morning, in which you described people in Concepcion feeling almost as though they had been abandoned or overlooked by their government. I suppose you've had a chance this morning to talk to more people.

MURPHY: Yes. People are - they have mixed feelings about the military being here. Some find it kind of shocking, because they haven't seen the military in the streets since the Pinochet dictatorship. Other people say that they're glad to see them, because the disorder that was starting to become commonplace, they would rather have the military here.

INSKEEP: The military, of course, has been put in charge of security in Concepcion. What kind of disorder was there?

MURPHY: There was looting of all sorts. There was people going into stores in search of food, necessities that the government was not getting here and still hasn't gotten here. And then you had people also just, you know, vandalizing, breaking windows, stealing televisions, things like that.

INSKEEP: Is food available?

MURPHY: It's still not. People that were standing in gas lines were talking about how they were gathering together all the flour that they could find from the different houses in their city block and making sopapillas, which are basically flour and water fried in oil. And that's what they were subsisting off of.

INSKEEP: Would you give me an idea of the landscape? Because I'm sure that's going to affect how easy it is to get aid to Concepcion. You're in mountainous country there, are you not?

MURPHY: It's very mountainous, and Chile is a very long, narrow country, as you know. And it's bordered by the Pacific Ocean on one side, and then you have the Andes Mountain range on the other. So it's very inaccessible now that there are no flights.

INSKEEP: And how difficult were the roads when you drove into Concepcion in the last day or so?

MURPHY: They were very packed. It was a very long trip. We started out in Austerno(ph), Chile. We actually had crossed the border from (unintelligible) Argentina. And we saw roads that were cracked in half, bridges down, huge craters that I could have stood in. Some places, the roads were just impassable, and we had to take dirt tracks that would pass around, dirt rural routes. It was - it's definitely a mess getting here.

INSKEEP: And know there was a curfew on the streets of Concepcion, but I'm curious: Did people spend last night in their houses, or out on the streets for fear of more aftershocks?

MURPHY: Some people were out in the streets, camped out in plazas. Otherwise, people were in their homes. What a lot of people have done, if they live in apartment buildings, they've gone to lower, you know, two-story family homes. We're not feeling as many aftershocks now. Last night, we were feeling them every 20 minutes, for up to a minute and a half.

INSKEEP: Up to a minute and a half?

MURPHY: Yeah.

INSKEEP: So you'd have 90 seconds of the ground shaking? And this is just an aftershock.

MURPHY: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Annie, one other thing I want to ask about...

MURPHY: Mm-hmm.

INSKEEP: How close is Concepcion to the coast?

MURPHY: Concepcion is right on the coast.

INSKEEP: And how did the coast weather, as best you can tell, the tsunami waves that came immediately after the earthquake?

MURPHY: The tsunami waves hit it - it hit islands. What happened on the coast is, there was coastal surge. Concepcion is up on a hill, most of the city. So the lower parts of it, the surge entered. But what you're looking at more is the port that's next to it. It's called Talcahuano. And they had a huge problem with surge. Most of the houses have a couple feet of mud inside them.

INSKEEP: Hmm. Annie Murphy in Concepcion, Chile. Thanks very much.

MURPHY: Thank you.

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