Chile's Coastal Resorts Damaged By Quake, Tsunami

Many towns and villages along Chile's long Pacific coast took a double hit. First there was the massive earthquake on Saturday, then there was the powerful ocean surge. Dichato was one of the beach towns that was hit the hardest.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Chile's earthquake may have been one of the most powerful in history, but it's becoming clear it wasn't necessarily the shaking earth that caused most of the damage. Rather it was the huge waves that were triggered by the quake. Several coastal communities were clobbered, perhaps none harder than one tiny beach community. NPR's Juan Forero has the story.

JUAN FORERO: Raul Andrade(ph) had a two-story house in Dichato right on the beach. He says he had a good little business going, selling snacks and drinks to the tourists who flock here at this time of year, when it's summer in the southern hemisphere.

Mr. RAUL ANDRADE: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Tears well up as Andrade, who is 55, explains how he lost it all.

(Soundbite of waves)

FORERO: Today, soft waves lap up on the beach in front of where Andrade's home once stood. But on Saturday, after the quake hit, Andrade knew something big was coming next. He'd been a fisherman and he knows the sea. He also knows all about the last big quake here, back in 1960.

Mr. ANDRADE: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: He says after Saturday's quake he saw the sea recede. He knew what that meant, that it would return with a fury. Andrade says he and his family headed for the hills.

Across this coastline, waves swamped towns, small and large. In fact, authorities say most of the roughly 800 who lost their lives may have been killed by the surging seawater. Here the toll is 15 dead and 80 percent of the town is gone.

Ms. MARIA THERESA MIOS(ph) (School Teacher): (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Maria Theresa Mios, a school teacher, gives a tour of her wrecked cottage. The refrigerator is wedged up over a wall. The furniture is soaked in mud and sand, a total loss.

Ms. MIOS: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: She says the worst of it all was having to run for her life. At the same time, she saw furniture and other belongings float by.

Much of Chile, which has stringent building standards, withstood the quake, but Dichato and other beach towns look not unlike another place recently throttled by a quake - Haiti. Block after block flattened. The only normalcy is in the piney woods with its intact homes above the town center.

(Soundbite of helicopter)

FORERO: Air Force helicopters deliver food. And long lines form in a field, people desperate for food. Marcelena Sistana(ph) picked up a box of pasta, water and canned goods.

Ms. MARCELENA SISTANA: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: She says she welcomed the food and that the town needs much more help. People were so hunger that some resorted to looting after the waves hit.

(Soundbite of horse walking)

FORERO: Now, some people in this once prosperous town have been reduced to scavenging from a horse and cart, looking for anything worth saving, anything that might be of use.

Francisco Ladennis(ph) was trying to save whatever he could where his house once stood.

Mr. FRANCISCO LADENNIS: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: But he says it's all gone - the house, the car, the furniture.

Mr. LADENNIS: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: He says when the waves hit he was thrown from bed and so was his wife. The two, along with a baby boy, hugged each other, hoping for it to end. It did, and they survived. But now he wonders what will become of their lives.

Juan Forero, NPR News, Dichato, Chile.

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