MICHELE NORRIS, host.
For more now, we're joined now Paul Simons. He's the U.S. ambassador to Chile. Ambassador, welcome to the program.
Mr. PAUL SIMONS (U.S. Ambassador to Chile): Thank you, Michele. I'm really delighted to be on NPR.
NORRIS: Ambassador, before we talk about U.S. aid and what more the U.S. might possibly be able to do to help Chile, what are the conditions like right now on the ground?
Mr. SIMONS: Well, I think to some extent, this is a tale of two earthquakes. The Santiago area is fairly rapidly returning to normalcy. The government's up and running, banks are up and running, restaurants, the transportation system, the roads. So, life is fairly quickly returning to normal here. But down in the south central region, the Concepcion area, there's some serious issues with public security. The area around Cauquenes, the area that suffered from not only the heart of the earthquake but also the subsequent tsunami, there's substantial structural damage there. Electricity has not been restored. Telecommunications have not, water has not been restored. So we have a very, very serious immediate relief and reconstruction challenge in the area closer to the epicenter of the earthquake and that's really where the relief efforts are focused.
NORRIS: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in country today. She arrived with some satellite phones that she was able to hand over to government officials and she said that the U.S. would be there to provide other kinds of help. What exactly can the U.S. do for Chile?
Mr. SIMON: Well, as the president said in his conversation with President Bachelet on Saturday, and as the secretary said today, the U.S. is ready to respond as quickly as possible to Chilean requests for assistance. Yesterday at about 3:00 p.m., we received the first detailed Chilean request of items that they were looking the United States to provide. There were about eight items on that list. We've already actually have en route to Chile three of those eight items: the mobile satellite phones, field hospitals, and water purification equipment.
So, we're moving, I think, pretty quickly when you consider that we only got the request at 3:00 p.m. yesterday. We're taking a look carefully to try to line up in terms of inventories the other five areas that they've requested. And those include temporary Bailey Bridges, electricity generating sets, emergency field shelters, dialysis equipment and portable kitchens. So the outreach of the international community is beginning now and I think it's moving ahead quite well.
NORRIS: Initially, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said that the country did not need much help from other nations. Has that slowed the delivery of humanitarian aid?
Mr. SIMONS: I don't believe that the president actually said that. On Saturday, she said we'd be looking at our needs. On Sunday, she did give a speech in which she outlined in general terms some of the areas where Chile might need help. And then on Monday, the foreign minister came out with a detailed list of requirements. So, I think the Chileans have actually moved, you know, rather quickly in terms of reaching out to the international community. At the same time, Chile is not a country that has these traditional donor relationships. Chile is a donor itself.
So, I think the situation's a little similar to what the U.S. experienced during Hurricane Katrina, you know, Chileans found the international community was willing to step up to the plate, but the Chileans have been self-sufficient for so long that to kind of put themselves into a kind of a recipient role instead of a donor role, it was something rather new for them. So, you know, they're accustomed to fixing problems on their own.
NORRIS: Chile is facing a governmental transition, not long from now, just a few days. How might that complicate the recovery effort?
Mr. SIMONS: Well, I think one thing that came out pretty clear in the meetings with Secretary Clinton was that there has been extremely good coordination between the outgoing team of President Bachelet and the incoming team of President-elect Pinera in terms of relief and reconstruction associated with this earthquake. So, the teams are really working side by side and they're expecting a smooth handover. And the secretary made that very clear in some of her remarks to the press after the meetings.
NORRIS: Before I let you go, sir, could you please describe your experience with the earthquake. Where were you when it struck?
Mr. SIMONS: Well, I was at my home in Santiago with one of my daughters and my wife was out of the country. We didn't have the whole family together, but it was 90 seconds of shaking and pounding that didn't seem like it wanted to end and it rose to something of a crescendo. And we've had several other earthquakes here, but the others have been pretty mild, but this one was very, very, very forceful and unforgettable.
NORRIS: Ambassador Paul Simons, thank you very much for taking time to talk to us.
Mr. SIMONS: Thank you, Michele.
NORRIS: Paul Simons is the U.S. ambassador to Chile.
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