Thursday, March 4, 2010

Stealing is NOT Cool

Looting erupts in Chile
By: Mario Naranjo
Mon Mar 1, 2010 8:15am EST

(Pic)- Residents loot a supermarket after an earthquake in Concepcion February 28, 2010. REUTERS/Jose Luis Saavedra

Reuters) - Chile's government scrambled on Monday to provide aid to thousands of homeless people in coastal towns devastated by a massive earthquake and tsunamis, as 10,000 troops patrolled to quell looting.

The 8.8 magnitude quake on Saturday killed 711 people and the death toll was expected to rise further as harrowing scenes of destruction emerged in isolated towns swamped by giant waves triggered by one of the strongest quakes in a century.

Many people were still missing in some communities in the worst-hit central region of Chile, which remained largely cut off by mangled highways and fallen telephone lines.

Surging waves ruined houses and smashed cars in fishing villages on the country's long Pacific coast. In the town of Constitucion alone, 350 people were reported to have died and a public gym was turned into a makeshift morgue.

"The tsunami destroyed almost everything on the seafront (and) the center of the town was completely destroyed. This means lots of people still haven't been accounted for," Constitucion Mayor Hugo Tilleria told state television, surrounded by the twisted wreckage of flattened homes.

A curfew went into effect overnight in the Maule region and the heavily damaged town of Concepcion, where hundreds of looters ransacked stores for food and other goods. Looting also broke out in parts of the capital, Santiago.

"We don't have water or anything. No one has appeared with help and we need more police to keep order. There are many people here who are robbing," said a 78-year-old woman who identified herself as Ana in the badly hit city of Talca, 155 miles south of Santiago.

In Concepcion, angry survivors camping along roads took out their frustration on firefighters who were distributing drinking water in thermoses and tea kettles, damaging their vehicles. Police arrested scores of people for looting and violating the curfew.


Copper prices surged to a five-week high in early trading due to supply worries, jumping 5.6 percent to $7,600 per tonne on the London Metal Exchange before easing to $7,385. Mining stocks rallied on copper's gains.

The markets may help clarify the extent of the economic impact on Latin America's most developed country and the world's biggest copper exporter.

Damage from the quake could cost up to $30 billion, equivalent to about 15 percent of Chile's gross domestic product, said Eqecat, a firm that helps insurers model catastrophe risks.

Chile's biggest copper mines affected by the quake slowly resumed operations, but analysts said limited power supplies could curtail exports and further lift copper prices. Two oil refineries remained closed, buoying the gas oil market.

The nation's fourth-largest copper mine, El Teniente, which accounts for more than 7 percent of national output, resumed operations on Sunday. The nearby Andina mine was also due to resume operations, but analysts feared power outages could still affect output.

Anglo-American said three of its Chilean mines had resumed operations and Antofagasta's Pelambres mines also resumed production.

Chile's peso currency tumbled more than 1 percent in opening trade on concerns over the extent of the impact on what is considered Latin America's best-run economy.

Some economists predicted a deep impact on Chile's economy after the quake damaged industrial and agricultural sectors in the worst-hit regions, but said the country's solid fiscal position would help reconstruction efforts.

"Chile has ample resources abroad to help finance the cost of its rebuilding efforts," a Credit Suisse briefing note said. "Alternatively, it should be in a comfortable position to tap external and/or local debt markets."

Japan said it was providing an emergency grant of $3 million, as well as sending tents, generators, water cleaners and other emergency gear, while China pledged $1 million.

(Additional reporting by Simon Gardner and Alonso Soto in Santiago; Writing by Stuart Grudgings and Helen Popper; Editing by Paul Simao)

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