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U.N. Mobilizes as Chile Asks for Help

The United Nations said Monday it would begin rushing aid deliveries to Chile after the government officially asked for help in its recovery from this weekend's massive earthquake.

U.N. humanitarian spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said Chile formally made its request Monday, two days after the 8.8-magnitude quake struck about 200 miles south of the capital, Santiago, killing over 700 people.

Byrs told the Associated Press that the global body was now "ready to take action."

Special Section: Earthquake in Chile

Before the request, international aid groups had sent some funds and experts. But their action was limited as Chilean officials were busy assessing the destruction from the earthquake and the needs of up to 2 million affected people.

Chile's government identified its emergency needs as temporary bridges, field hospitals, satellite phones, electric generators, damage assessment teams, water purification systems, field kitchens and dialysis centers, Byrs said.

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

U.N. and Red Cross officials said details of the destruction in Chile remained sketchy, noting that aftershocks were a continued risk and citing a number of "silent areas" with no contact to the outside world.

The international Red Cross said volunteers were providing first aid in areas hardest hit, and that it was appealing for donations within Chile.

It has released $280,000 of its own funds, and is sending aid experts to help recovery efforts, but stressed that local officials were taking the lead - unlike in Haiti, where the January earthquake destroyed large parts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and killed over 200,000.

"Haiti was a different case: We had an office there and we had people on the ground. We have no office in Chile," said Marcal Izard, a Red Cross spokesman in Geneva. "We are organizing help for families trying to reconnect. But it's really preliminary. We need to talk to the Chilean Red Cross and first find out what they need."

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The United Nations had assistance teams on standby Saturday, hours after the earthquake destroyed or badly damaged 500,000 homes, and knocked out electricity installations, major bridges, water mains and hospitals. Communications and connections by road are still poor, officials said.

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.

Doctors Without Borders said it sent an exploratory team of health workers to help the Chilean government. They will travel Monday to the Maule region and will focus on areas close to the epicenter of the earthquake, prioritizing rural villages where aid often takes far longer to reach than in cities.

WHO warned of a "significant number" of areas that aid officials still have no information about.

"Over the next 24-48 hours more accurate information on the extent of damage in rural, isolated areas should be available," it said.

Meanwhile, Chilean authorities have stepped up efforts to curb looting. Police fired tear gas and imposed an overnight curfew to control looters who sacked virtually every market in the city of Concepcion.

CBS News correspondent Mark Strassman 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.

The government deployed a reported 10,000 troops to try and maintain control in the hardest-hit regions south of the capital, where soldiers could be seen on the streets, reports Strassman.

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

President Michelle Bachelet promised imminent deliveries of food, water and shelter for thousands living on the streets.

"We are confronting an emergency without parallel in Chile's history," Bachelet declared Sunday, a day after the magnitude-8.8 quake - one of the biggest in centuries - killed at least 708 people and destroyed or badly damaged 500,000 homes. Bachelet said "a growing number" of people were recorded as missing.

Paul Simons, U.S. Ambassador to Chile, told "The Early Show" there were no confirmed reports of Americans killed or injured as of Monday morning. But he quickly cautioned that it was still impossible to reach many people south of the capital.

"We may have as many as 1,000 Americans living in the Concepcion area," Simons told "Early Show" co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez, adding that U.S. officials had only been in contact with a handful of them.

Simons' point illustrated what Strassman dubbed "a tale of two quakes," referring to the minimal level of damage in the capital city compared to the utter devastation further south.

In Concepcion, 320 miles south of Santiago, firefighters pulling survivors from a toppled apartment building had to pause because of tear gas fired at looters who wheeled away everything from microwave ovens to canned milk at a damaged supermarket across the street.

Looters used long tubes of bamboo and plastic to siphon gasoline from underground tanks at a closed gasoline station.

Eduardo Aundez, a Spanish professor, 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."

Looters even carted off pieces of a copper statue of South American independence fighter Bernardo O'Higgins next to a justice building.

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