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It's been four days since a magnitude 8.8 earthquake struck Chile. About 800 people died in the quake. Hundreds of thousands remain homeless, but the survivors have reason for hope. Chile's President Michelle Bachelet said today there's no shortage of food or fuel. Host Marco Werman speaks with reporter Gideon Long in Santiago.
MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. A strong aftershock of magnitude 6.3 struck Chile today. The tremor came four days after a magnitude 8.8 earthquake hit the South American country. About 800 people died in that quake. Hundreds of thousands remain homeless. President Michelle Bachelet denied today that there is a shortage of food or fuel. Reporter Gideon Long with the BBC is in Santiago. Gideon is what I just described indeed accurate?
GIDEON LONG: That's right. There was a very strong aftershock around 6 magnitude at around 2:45 local time. The epicenter was around 50 kilometers form the city of Concepcion, which as you'll know, has been one of the cities worst affected by this quake and it sent people running, trying to reach higher ground. About 15 minutes later the Navy issued a statement saying there was no tsunami alert and that has been followed up by a similar statement from the official National Emergency Office which is part of the government. So they're basically trying to calm people down and tell them that although there has been a strong aftershock, there's no danger of further waves coming in from the sea. So obviously still a very tense situation down in Concepcion.
WERMAN: What about the outlying areas outside of Concepcion? Any new information from the rural communities that were hit?
LONG: Well just to give you a few examples, the town of Dichato, which is just north of Concepcion and is on the coast. This is a small fishing village. It was absolutely destroyed, flattened not so much by the quake, but by the tsunami that followed in its wake. And we saw there yesterday that some aid had reached Dichato. Now that's a good sign because if aid is reaching places like Dichato, I suspect it means that it's reaching most of the areas in the affected area. Another example, the city of Constitucion, which is north of Concepcion, this is quite a large city. Again, devastated by the tsunami more than the quake. We saw a helicopter, an Army helicopter landing there in Constitucion and handing out aid. So again, reasonably positive signs. Having said that, there are still lots of villages, lots of towns in the area that we haven't heard from. So we don't have an overall picture, it's still slightly patchy, but the impression I get is that aid is now reaching people who need it most.
WERMAN: Where does this leave the search and rescue operations?
LONG: Well I think they're concentrating still in Concepcion, simply because it's such a big city, over half a million people, so still a lot of collapsed buildings there. There are still rescue workers working on one particular building in Concepcion where they believe that six people may still be buried alive. They're trying to reach people under one building in Concepcion. The search and rescue operation is concentrating on coastal villages and coastal towns. The focus has shifted somewhat to the coast now. There is a growing realization that many of those people who were killed were killed not so much by the quake, but by the tsunami. So we've seen death tolls in places like Constitucion, Llorllo on the coast, that have been rising steadily. The search and rescue operation and the aid operation is now moving to the coast. It seems they're the worst affected areas.
WERMAN: And what about the security situation in Concepcion where we heard about the looting over the past couple of days.
LONG: Well some good news there, it does seem to have calmed significantly, certainly since two days ago which is the worst day for looting when rioters set fire to a shopping center and looted supermarkets. The security situation does seem to be improving. The Army are on the streets in greater numbers. There are now 14,000 troops on the streets, mostly in Concepcion and in the city of Taoca. And also they've imposed a curfew. There was a curfew enforced last night from 6:00 local time until mid-day. An 18 hour curfew and that does seem to have brought things under control. There were 35 arrests made in the Concepcion area last night for defiance of the curfew. Interestingly only three of those were made by the military. Most of them were made by the Police Force.
WERMAN: The BBCs Gideon Long in Santiago, thanks very much Gideon for the update.
LONG: Thank you.