Chile battles to aid quake survivors

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

Chile is struggling to provide food and water for thousands of homeless people after the devastating earthquake on Saturday which killed more than 700 people. The army has been arresting people found ransacking supermarkets in ConcepciĆ³n, the city closest to the epicenter of the quake. Looting also broke out in parts of the capital, Santiago. Marco Werman talks with the BBC's Gideon Long in Santiago.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. At this hour authorities in Chile are struggling to provide food and water for thousands left homeless by a devastating earthquake that hit there on Saturday. It killed more than 700 people and Chile's President Michelle Bachelet is warning that the number of deaths is certain to rise. The Army has been arresting people found ransacking supermarkets in Concepcion. That's the city closest to the epicenter of the quake. Looting also broke out in parts of the capital, Santiago. That's where the BBC's Gideon Long is. First of all Gideon, help us get a handle on the scale of this disaster? How many people are affected and how severely?

GIDEON LONG: Well the death toll is still as it was last night, just over 700. The number of people affected in the country as a whole, 2 million people. That's an eighth of the population affected in some way or other. So obviously an earthquake on a massive scale here. The situation is obviously most desperate in the south around the cities of Concepcion as you said, but also in the coastal city of Constitucion and inland in Chian in Curico and in Taoca. All of these cities have been very badly affected.

WERMAN: And Gideon you're in the capital Santiago. The city wasn't badly hit by this quake, but there are reports of looting. What is it like there in Santiago?

LONG: Santiago is much calmer than it was yesterday. There have been some isolated cases of looting in the south of the city, which seems to be slightly worse affected than the rest of the city. But generally speaking, Santiago is not too bad. Just to give you an idea, the metro is now back up and running. The airport is now open for a limited number of flights, so things are getting back to something like normality here in Santiago, although there have been some cases of looting too.

WERMAN: And the looting is, of course, more severe in the south near the epicenter of the quake. In fact, the Army has been sent in to restore order. Tell us what the latest is there.

LONG: The Army has been sent in to specifically to the city of Concepcion to try and restore order. Everywhere else in the affection region has been left to the Police. The Police are still in control. And in the Biobia region, which is one of the two regions that's been worst hit, a curfew was imposed last night form 9:00 at night local time until 6:00 in the morning and the idea is to impose that curfew again this evening. So that's one effort to try and restore calm and restore law and order and to stop the looting.

WERMAN: From here Gideon, this quake seems like a tricky situation to fully assess. On the one hand, it's one of the most powerful quakes on record to ever hit planet earth. On the other hand, there is nowhere near the death toll, so far anyway, as what we saw in Haiti in January. And yet, people have died, the body count continues, and there have been towns simply flattened. How is the government in Chile casting this big quake, low body count, major disaster?

LONG: Well they are saying it's the biggest disaster that Chile has ever faced. And if you consider that Chile has already faced the biggest earthquake, back in 1960, ever recorded, that's quite a statement. It's a huge disaster even though, as you say, the body count is relatively low. Of course, with a relatively small number of people dying, it means that most people survived the quake, but of course that creates problems of its own. There are tens of thousands of people who, thankfully, did survive the quake, but of course they all need water, they need food, they need electricity and at the moment they haven't got those things.

WERMAN: Interestingly, President Bachelet said they need international assistance even though Chile is not really a country traditionally used to asking for that kind of help. What kind of help is needed, though? And what help, do you know, is on the way?

LONG: Well, Mrs. Bachelet was quite specific that was needed. She said that the needed temporary bridges to replace some of the bridges which have collapsed on the road. She said that they need to set up field hospitals as soon as they can and that they need water purification plants set up as well because water is becoming increasingly a problem. That was an appeal that she made yesterday. As of yet, international aid hasn't started to arrive in Chile, but the airport is open in Santiago and so we're expecting some sort soon.