Concepcion Residents Complain Relief Is Slow

The city of Concepcion was one of the hardest hit by Chile's earthquake. The port has been badly damaged by waters that came more than a half-mile into the area. A major apartment building collapsed, leaving dozens unaccounted for. Reporter Annie Murphy tells Renee Montagne that residents desperate for food have been looting the city's stores and complaining about the slow response by the government.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Its MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And Im Renee Montagne.

The authorities in Chile are struggling today to get food, water and medical supplies to southern and coastal parts of the country. Those are the regions hit hardest by Saturdays earthquake, an earthquake that killed more than 700 people and left hundreds of thousands without homes. One of the worst hit cities is Concepcion, and reporter Annie Murphy is there. Hello, good morning.

ANNIE MURPHY: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Is there any sign of emergency supplies reaching the city?

MURPHY: So far I havent seen any. I have heard some rumors of several outlying neighborhoods having some supplies being delivered by their neighborhood organizations. But from what I have seen tonight, there still arent any supplies here.

MONTAGNE: And were hearing reports of widespread looting. I mean, people clearly in need there, but also looting of stores for other things. Is that what you have seen?

MURPHY: During the day yesterday I did see quite a bit of looting. It hit a point in the afternoon where it got pretty intense. They burned the supermarket and the fire is still going on right now. Its a very large supermarket. In terms of over the night, I havent seen any looting during the night. Ive seen a lot of people out waiting to protect their houses or their businesses from potential looting, but I havent actually seen any looting tonight.

MONTAGNE: And you said burned a supermarket. What, cleared it out of the food and then burned it? I mean, that doesnt in some sense make sense.

MURPHY: Yeah, (unintelligible) either. I assume that people are just in poor enough spirits at this point that they are just, you know, theyre not just looking to satisfy their needs, they're probably looking to make a statement as well.

MONTAGNE: What about organized attempts to dig people out of collapsed buildings? Is that happening?

MURPHY: Yeah, I mean, there is not the same number of - but a lot of people are not getting, you know, just whole city is leveled. Here what happened is, its pretty intermittent. A lot of houses have significant damage, but very few buildings have entirely collapsed. A lot of them are businesses where there wasnt anyone inside. There are several larger buildings and one of them is a 15-storey apartment building that collapsed. Theres an ongoing effort (unintelligible) that building.

MONTAGNE: And Concepcion is quite near the sea. Have you seen what happened in coastal areas, also areas we have heard are hard hit but hard to get to?

MURPHY: Yeah, I've been down to the port thats next to Concepcion, and that was hit very hard. The sea rose several meters, it went as far as a kilometer in length, and it just dumped a quantity of things there - mud, trash, boats, nets, buoys, dead animals. There's just a whole lot of refuse and people are kind of trying to pass through it. Some people have been scavenging for food amongst all that.

MONTAGNE: So what are people saying to you when you approach them on the streets there?

MURPHY: First of all, people think that, from the local radio (unintelligible) they're asking if I can take messages because the local radio has been transmitting peoples messages about their loved ones. There are so many people that have disappeared, theyre trying to get in touch. And then when they found out Im from the States, they just start saying, well, you know, you have to let people know that we need to have aid, we need to have food, we need to have water, and the government hasn't taken care of us.

MONTAGNE: And thats the sense, that the government - its been days and the government hasnt gotten there.

MURPHY: Right, people really feel abandoned. I think they were pretty happy that the military arrived because that - they saw it as a way to have more order, and they assumed that food and water would soon be on the way, but its already been over 24 hours that the military has been here and no supplies.

MONTAGNE: And I also gather that there are sort of endless aftershocks still going on?

MURPHY: There are. I mean, weve been feeling them, you know, every few minutes; in the course of this conversation I felt them. They vary in strength, but there has been a couple of during the night that were very significant that really made people stop and, you know, kind of look up at the ceiling wondering if theres going to be another earthquake.

MONTAGNE: Which could be quite in a way terrifying.

MURPHY: Yes, I think that people here definitely. People are pretty amazed at how resilient they are; they've laughed a lot during the tremors and tried to make light of it, but I think that people are definitely, you know, they're under a lot of pressure.

MONTAGNE: Annie, thanks very much.

MURPHY: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: That was reporter Annie Murphy speaking to us from Concepcion, Chile.

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