Chile: Frustration Grows Over Slow Quake Recovery

A man stands in front of a shack he built at a temporary camp Penco's port in Concepcion i i

A man stands in front of a shack he built at a temporary camp at Penco's port in Concepcion, south of Santiago, on May 5, 2010. He is one of the people still homeless as a result of the massive earthquake that hit Feb. 27 and the tsunami it triggered. Claudio Santana/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Claudio Santana/AFP/Getty Images
A man stands in front of a shack he built at a temporary camp Penco's port in Concepcion

A man stands in front of a shack he built at a temporary camp at Penco's port in Concepcion, south of Santiago, on May 5, 2010. He is one of the people still homeless as a result of the massive earthquake that hit Feb. 27 and the tsunami it triggered.

Claudio Santana/AFP/Getty Images

Six months ago, a huge earthquake hit the southern part of Chile, leaving more than 500 dead and many homes and businesses destroyed. But the worst damage was from the tsunami that followed; it caused damage up and down the coast and wiped out entire villages.

Now, with many survivors still homeless, the speed of the government's recovery efforts has become the subject of controversy.

The city of Concepcion was one of the hardest hit by February's earthquake, and it doesn't look much different now than it did six months ago. Debris litters many streets. One high-rise apartment building still lies toppled on its side. Another still stands, just barely, the top third crushed like a cake.

But at least services like light and water are back, and many people have returned to their homes.

Raul Vera i i

Raul Vera was born and raised in Dichato, a fishing village near Concepcion. The tsunami swept away his house, destroyed his newly purchased boat, and left him jobless. He has no idea when his life will return to normal. Annie Murphy for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Annie Murphy for NPR
Raul Vera

Raul Vera was born and raised in Dichato, a fishing village near Concepcion. The tsunami swept away his house, destroyed his newly purchased boat, and left him jobless. He has no idea when his life will return to normal.

Annie Murphy for NPR

'Not One Improvement'

That isn't the case in the nearby fishing village of Dichato.

After the quake hit, the sea receded, and local residents made a run for the hills. When the sea returned, it buried the town under a wall of water and nearly leveled the area by the shore.

Now all that remains are the cement skeletons of a few buildings — and a lot of rubble. But fisherman Raul Vera still comes every day to look at the ocean.

Vera was born and raised in Dichato. Right before the quake, he had finally bought his own boat, which he named the Poseidon, and he'd just moved into his own house — two blocks from the water. But the tsunami swept away the house, smashed his boat in two, and left Vera without a job.

He still has no idea when his life will return to normal.

"Nothing has gotten better — not one improvement," he says. "There's no cleanup, and right now we can't rebuild. Just a week ago the government started clearing away the rubble."

Locals have staged protests. They feel the government isn't handling the reconstruction properly.

In The Camps, Feeling 'Tossed Aside'

Many of them, such as Raul, are living in temporary camps.

At one camp, some students are making balloon animals for kids. They are in a large clearing surrounded by evergreens. The camp consists of row upon row of spare, wooden huts with metal roofs; each is approximately 10 feet by 20 feet. There is no running water or bathrooms, so people use portable toilets and take bucket baths.

Connie Bravo, 24, fills up buckets to wash her two toddlers. In her shelter, there is a bed, a table, two chairs and a stove with some cold toast sitting on one burner. It's the end of winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and it's chilly and damp. Four people live there. Bravo says they're uncomfortable — but doesn't think there is much to be done.

"In the end, the government's the government," she says, "and it just does what it can. We can't really ask for a lot."

Bravo's neighbor, Eglantina Chavez, is outside trying to fix a broken washing machine. She feels differently about the government's efforts.

"It's infuriating that the government hasn't worried more about us here in Dichato," says Chavez. "Six months and there's no solution. There are no psychologists or nurses for the kids, nothing. The government can't just leave us here, tossed aside."

Government Assures, While Survivors Wait

Government officials, however, say they're doing all they can. Sergio Baeriswyl is a government planner who is overseeing coastal reconstruction in the region.

"Of course these complaints have some legitimacy," he says, "because these people are living in extreme conditions. But people are gradually getting behind the dream we have for rebuilding." And, he adds, their houses should all be under construction by 2011.

Victor Galindo, 66, worked most of his life in a local lumberyard. Now, he cuts wood for his stove to keep him and his wife warm at night.

Like most of the people in this camp, Galindo believes he'll be here for a long time.

"The government told us we could be waiting for up to three or four years here in the camp," he says. "At my age, I wonder if I'll even live to see my new house."

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