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Chile Reacts To 'Unparalleled' Earthquake Disaster

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Chile Reacts To 'Unparalleled' Earthquake Disaster


Chile Reacts To 'Unparalleled' Earthquake Disaster

Chile Reacts To 'Unparalleled' Earthquake Disaster

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has called the magnitude 8.8 earthquake that struck that country on Saturday “an emergency unparalleled in the history of Chile.” In addition to dealing with the rising death toll, Chile is grappling with keeping order amid reports of looting. Guest host Lynn Neary speaks with reporter Annie Murphy, who is covering the aftermath from the port city of Talcahuano, scene of some of the worst damage.


Im Lynn Neary, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

Coming up, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Latin America. Thats in a few minutes.

But first, a terrible predawn earthquake in Chile this past Saturday has damaged more than one million buildings and killed more than 700 people. Reporter Annie Murphy is on the ground in the port city of Talcahuano, scene of some of the worst damage. Thanks so much for joining us, Annie.

Ms. ANNIE MURPHY (Freelance Journalist): Thank you.

NEARY: Give us a sense of what its like there. How badly is the city damaged?

MS. MURPHY: It is - its a mess. A lot of the buildings are still intact. But what really did a lot of damage - I mean a lot of buildings are also not intact. But what did most of the damage here is the sea. There are the huge swells. Some people are calling it tsunami. Some people are just calling it a sea rise.

Its hard to get a big read on what it was exactly, but the sea entered almost a kilometer into the city. So, its just mud and trash, dead animals, people scavenging in the wreckage.

Right now, you can see that the military is in town, (unintelligible) shots that were just fired around the Central Plaza. Its just very chaotic, unorganized. No one seems to know what to do. A lot of people are worried that theres going to be another surge in the afternoon.

NEARY: Now, the mayor of Concepcion yesterday criticized the federal governments response to the earthquake saying that the key first 24 hours were just lost. Why? What did the government fail to do during those - that key time?

MS. MURPHY: They think that the government just wasnt here during that time. The military arrived yesterday afternoon around the same time that I arrived from Uruguay. So it took them a very long time to get here. And in that time, people just had no idea where to go. They didnt know if they should go back to their homes. They didnt know if they should try to leave the city. Its just everyone kind of trying to figure out what to do themselves. And what has actually been the strongest structure here, it seems like, are neighborhood peoples families and, you know, just local people.

NEARY: So it sounds like people are pretty frustrated with the government response?

MS. MURPHY: Theyre incredibly frustrated. They feel forgotten. They feel abandoned.

NEARY: Now, yesterday, there were also instances of looting in Concepcion. How is the government responding to that and how bad is that situation?

MS. MURPHY: Thats why the military is here. The military was sent in to keep control of the looting. It seems like its better today. In the main square, you have military stationed right in front of the department stores, things like that. People are really, on one hand, theyre glad that theres a little more order but theyre also showing a lot of rage because the government -their first response, as of now, has been to send military without any provisions. So theyre seeing some order in the town, but theyre not seeing any food, water or other services.

NEARY: So all of those sort of basic services are limited or nonexistent. I mean, are people getting food and water at all?

MS. MURPHY: People are getting some water. Again, neighborhood groups have come together and, you know, cracked open a fire hydrant, things like that. Food, people are subsisting off what they had in their homes. A lot of people are talking about just making biscuits out of flour.

Here in Talcahuano, there was a company that made flour that the earthquake destroyed, so people went there and salvaged flour from that. Theyre frying that up into biscuits, but people have very little right now.

NEARY: Where are people living? Where are people sleeping?

MS. MURPHY: Wherever they can. If some one has a family member whose house is still intact, because many of them have been ruined, a lot of people are crowding into those homes. Sometimes people dont have anywhere to go or theyre too afraid to go inside, so theyre sleeping outside. Its really cold right now. Its probably about 50 degrees outside. So its kind of catch as catch can right now, a lot of people in their cars if they have cars.

NEARY: Tough situation. And this comes just after last months terrible earthquake in Haiti, but theres been relatively less destruction and loss of life in Chile. Why is that?

MS. MURPHY: First of all, the construction in Chile is much sturdier. Chile is obviously a much more developed country than Haiti in that sense. And people also are accustomed to earthquakes here. This is a very large earthquake that happened, but people are used to having earthquakes occur over the course of the year so they know what to do. They know that after an earthquake if you live up in the coast, the sea is probably going to rise. They go inland. They look for high ground.

NEARY: So now that the military is there, whats expected to happen within the next, you know, couple of days?

MS. MURPHY: You know, I expect that theyre going to bring food, water, try to get up telecommunications again, try to set up makeshift housing. I spoke to the military this morning and the (unintelligible) I spoke to said these were all plans that they had, but he couldnt give me dates or times or locations that theyre going to do it. It seemed like they were very fresh on the ground and trying to figure out what their plans were as well.

NEARY: How are people on the ground there learning about whats going on? Whats the situation with radio, television, communications?

MS. MURPHY: On the local level, theres one radio station in Concepcion, which is operating called the Radio Bio-Bio, thats where most people are getting information from. But that radio is spending most of their time actually broadcasting news of people, like local people that are looking for family members.

In terms of information from outside, theres no information. Everyone has been interviewing - when I go out into the street and people realize that Im foreign press, everyone is asking what is going on? What are they saying in the capital? When can we expect supplies? No one has any information here really from outside.

NEARY: Reporter Annie Murphy from Talcahuano, Chile. Annie, thanks so much for joining us.

MS. MURPHY: Thank you.

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