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Chile: Aid Trickles Out but Looters Remain

Updated 6:25 p.m. EST

Rescuers found signs of life in the wreckage of a 15-story building Monday as the world offered aid to victims of an earthquake that killed more than 700 people. Looters roamed the streets even after troops and police arrested dozens of people for violating a curfew.

The toll of dead rose to 723, with 19 others missing, the National Emergency Office announced, in a magnitude-8.8 quake that President Michelle Bachelet called "an emergency without parallel in Chile's history."

Some coastal towns were almost obliterated - first shaken by the quake, then slammed by a tsunami that carried whole houses inland and crushed others into piles of sticks. Shocked survivors were left without power, water or food.

Central Chile is a landscape of ruin. Communities are battered beyond recognition and in many cases still cut off from relief.

Broken homes and lives lie scattered on the ground or adrift in the waves offshore. Many of the 2 million people forced out of their homes now sleep outdoors because they are too frightened to go back in the rickety structures, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann.

Special Section: Earthquake in Chile
How to Help: Aid Organizations, Mobile Giving

In Concepcion, the biggest city near the epicenter, rescuers heard the knock of trapped victims inside a toppled 70-unit apartment building and began to drill through thick walls to reach them, said fire department Commander Juan Carlos Subercaseux.

Only the chop of military helicopters flying overhead broke the silence demanded by rescuers straining to hear signs of life inside the building.

Firefighters had already pulled 25 survivors and nine bodies from the structure.

Buildings that pose obvious safety concerns are sealed off. But inspectors are even going through buildings that look undamaged - in case there's hidden structural damage, Strassmann reports.

Mayor Jacqueline van Rysselberghe told Radio Cooperativa that some food aid was arriving in the city of 200,000 Monday for distribution to the hungry.

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Strassmann reports that with no electricity and scarce supplies, desperation mounted quickly and some survivors' minds turned to grabbing anything they could find in damaged shops. Looting spread from store to store in Concepcion. Many just take what they need.

Survivors improvised in their search for fuel - some reportedly using long bamboo tubes to siphon gas from underground tanks.

Electricity was still out, however, water was scarce and looters re-emerged at dusk despite beefed up security. Dozens of people sacked stores selling food, clothing and drugs, fleeing when police appeared to drive them away. Some struck gas stations, stealing cash from attendants.

As a small military convoy of drove down the main avenue, bystanders applauded and shouted, "Finally! Finally!"

Concepcion police chief Eliecer Soler said officers arrested 55 people for violating a nighttime curfew imposed after looters sacked nearly every market in town Sunday. Troops ordered into the city by Bachelet patrolled to enforce security. A few looters re-emerged to rob a market on Monday.

Spanish professor Eduardo Aundez watched with disgust as a soldier patiently waited for looters to rummage through a downtown store, then lobbed two tear gas canisters into the rubble to get them out.

"I feel abandoned" by authorities, he said. "We believe the government didn't take the necessary measures in time, and now supplies of food and water are going to be much more complicated."

More than 100 aftershocks have rattled the country, all with a magnitude of five or more.

The World Health Organization said it expected the death toll to rise in the coming days as communications improve. For survivors, it said access to health services will be a major challenge and noted that indigenous people living in adobe homes were most at risk from heavily damaged infrastructure.

The United Nations said Monday that it would rush aid deliveries to Chile after Bachelet appealed for international aid. U.N. humanitarian spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said Chile was seeking temporary bridges, field hospitals, satellite phones, electric generators, damage assessment teams, water purification systems, field kitchens and dialysis centers.

"We are prepared to provide assistance," Byrs told The Associated Press in Geneva. "It could be quite fast, given that our experts are on standby and were alerted in the region."

The U.N. is sending 45 satellite phones to Chile for officials coordinating earthquake relief efforts and is prepared to send 30 tons of food and other aid if the government gives the green light, the top U.N. representative for Latin America said Monday.

The U.N. is also waiting to hear whether the government wants the world body to launch a financial appeal to help the country recover from the massive quake, as it did after the recent earthquake in Haiti, Alicia Barcena, executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, told reporters at U.N. headquarters from her base in Santiago.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the first 20 of those satellite phones and a technician with her when she story=6255575>visits Chile on Tuesday.

The gear and expertise are a down payment on help the United States intends to provide following the massive quake in Chile last week. Clinton was making a brief stop Tuesday in the capital as part of a Latin American trip rearranged because of the disaster.

"We are bringing some of what they asked for which are satellite phones," Clinton told reporters on the way to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

"One of their biggest problems has been communications as we found in Haiti in those days after the quake," Clinton said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also offered to provide other forms of disaster aid.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Chile has also asked for a field hospital and water purification systems.

"We are mobilizing those capabilities as we speak, and will be moving those down to Chile as quickly as possible," Crowley said.

Earlier, U.S. Ambassador Paul Simons said he knew of no American deaths from the earthquake, but stressed that officials were having a difficult time getting information from Conception, the area most devastated by the quake.

In an interview by telephone with CBS's "The Early Show," Simons said, "We do not have any confirmed reports of Americans who have died." He added that while officials have been able to contact "a few" of the estimated 1,000 Americans in Chile, "information is still very, very scarce."

Argentina said it was sending six aircraft loaded with a field hospital, 55 doctors and water treatment plants.

Bachelet ordered troops to help deliver food, water and blankets and clear rubble from roads, and she urged power companies to restore service first to hospitals, health clinics and shelters. Field hospitals were planned for hard-hit Concepcion, Talca and Curico.

(USGS)
(Left: A map of aftershocks recorded through Sunday, February 28, 2010, following Saturday's 8.8-mag. earthquake that struck coastal Chile.)

Bachelet also ordered authorities to quickly identify the dead and return them to their families to ensure "the dignified burials that they deserve."

Defense Minister Francisco Vidal acknowledged the navy made a mistake by not immediately activating a tsunami warning after the quake hit before dawn Saturday. Port captains in several coastal towns did, saving what Vidal called hundreds of lives.

But the navy waited a half hour to sound the tsunami warning - too late for hundreds of people who authorities fear were swept out to sea. In the coastal resort of Lloca, survivors ran for their lives.

"The only thing we did was grab the children and run up into the hills," one resident told Strassmann.

Thirty minutes passed between the quake and a wave that inundated coastal towns, leaving behind sticks, scraps of metal and masonry houses ripped in two. A beachside carnival in the village of Lloca was swamped in the tsunami. A carousel was twisted on its side and a Ferris wheel rose above the muddy wreckage.

Officials said at least eight people died and eight were missing on Robinson Crusoe Island, where it the tsunami drove the sea almost 2 miles into the town of San Juan Bautista.

Efforts to determine the full scope of destruction were undermined by an endless string of terrifying aftershocks that turned more buildings into rubble - and forced thousands to set up tents in parks and grassy highway medians.

"If you're inside your house, the furniture moves," said Monica Aviles, pulling a shawl around her shoulders to ward off the cold as she sat next to a fire across the street from her apartment building.

As if to punctuate her fear, an aftershock set off shuddering and groaning sounds for blocks around.

"That's why we're here," she said.

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