Pervasive Post-Quake Looting Dismays Chileans

People are seen looting a supermarket Sunday in Penco, Chile. i i

hide captionPeople are seen looting a supermarket Sunday in Penco, near Concepcion, the day after a huge earthquake rocked Chile.

Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images
People are seen looting a supermarket Sunday in Penco, Chile.

People are seen looting a supermarket Sunday in Penco, near Concepcion, the day after a huge earthquake rocked Chile.

Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images

The earthquake in Chile — one of history's most potent — triggered tsunamis that slammed coastal areas. But it also touched off man-made chaos: widespread looting.

The assault on stores astonished Chileans, who thought their country was immune to that kind of mayhem. It is prompting much soul-searching among some in a nation considered Latin America's most politically and socially stable.

Crime is low in Chile. Poverty levels have fallen dramatically. And economists say Chile will soon attain the status of a developed nation in a continent marked by third-world conditions.

But the looting exposed social fissures in Chile. Chileans like Piero Mosciatti, director of Radio Bio-Bio in the earthquake zone, say it has people questioning just how much progress Chile has really made.

He says there are deep-seated resentments felt by those on the margins of society — people who felt they haven't shared in Chile's good times. Mosciatti says the looting that followed Saturday's 8.8 magnitude quake shows that income inequality in Chile is perhaps greater than previously thought.

Firefighters try to control a fire at a supermarket burned by looters in Concepcion, Chile. i i

hide captionChilean firefighters try to control a fire at a supermarket burned by looters in Concepcion on Monday.

Jonne Roriz/Agencia Estado via AP
Firefighters try to control a fire at a supermarket burned by looters in Concepcion, Chile.

Chilean firefighters try to control a fire at a supermarket burned by looters in Concepcion on Monday.

Jonne Roriz/Agencia Estado via AP

A Continuing Problem

At first, the looters targeted supermarkets in Concepcion — Chile's second-largest metropolitan area — and surrounding towns. Then, they turned to clothing boutiques and electronics stores — burning some of them to the ground in a frenzy.

The few policemen were powerless to stop them. The military was not called to restore order for a full day after the raids began.

Still, even days later, looters combed through gutted stores and overturned shipping containers on Concepcion's destroyed port.

Pablo Castro, 19, says it is necessary to find food and milk. He says the general chaos led him and others to turn their attention to malls and other stores.

Subsequent tremors and the threat of another tsunami have prompted more looting in recent days.

Losses To Looting

In downtown Concepcion, residents gingerly step on broken glass to see how their neighborhood supermarket was sacked of practically everything. A heavily armed soldier now stands guard outside.

A soldier escorts two men detained for looting on Tuesday in the fishing village of Constitucion. i i

hide captionA soldier escorts two men detained for looting on Tuesday in the fishing village of Constitucion, Chile.

Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images
A soldier escorts two men detained for looting on Tuesday in the fishing village of Constitucion.

A soldier escorts two men detained for looting on Tuesday in the fishing village of Constitucion, Chile.

Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images

Patricia Solar, a housewife, says she understands why it happened. She says stores were closed after the quake — and that one day of that was fine. But two?

People were desperate, she explains, and couldn't be stopped.

On the corner, Hugo Carrasco hawks newspapers. But his nearby newsstand was destroyed, as was the big clothing store nearby, which was gutted by fire after being emptied by looters.

He lost everything, he says, not to the quake, but to the looters.

He says he'd never seen anything like it: a giant mob of people who had lost all reason.

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