Tue, Apr 24, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Chilean rescuers find three bodies, seven still missing


A Chilean policeman observes the site of an earthquake in the Aysen Fjord, about 2,050km south of Santiage, Chile, on Sunday


Rescuers found the bodies of three people who were swept out to sea by huge waves triggered by a powerful earthquake that sent avalanches crashing into a fjord in southern Chile. Seven others were missing.

While there was no tsunami, Saturday's 6.2-magnitude earthquake caused masses of rock and earth to plunge from surrounding hills into the narrow inlet, creating 8m waves.

The roaring, white-capped water destroyed boats, uprooted trees and overwhelmed beachgoers. Police Major Claudio Escobar said on Sunday that the search would continue until the seven missing people had been located.

A correspondent for Chilevision television, who was at the beach to install an antenna, said he saw a man and his young daughter dragged into the water by a large wave.

"There were some boats in the area and waves destroyed them," Orlando Adriazola said. "The boat we arrived in was thrown on top of a tree, partly destroyed."

The government's Emergency Bureau identified the three bodies as Ernesto Contreras, 65; his wife, Elsa Poblete, 54; and their two-year-old grandson Genaro Linay. They were found in Aysen Fjord, near the epicenter of the quake. The seven missing people weren't identified.

Meanwhile, Chilean President Michele Bachelet arrived on Sunday and was met by protests from angry residents who say the government has been slow to offer assistance following several months of seismic activity in the region.

After touring the area, Bachelet said the government would reinforce the area's health services with more doctors and ambulances, as well sending a helicopter and a power generator in case of a new emergency.

Public Works Minister Eduardo Bitran and a team of engineers were to fly to the area yesterday to check a local bridge that was damaged by the quake, she said.

Bachelet also was considering releasing emergency funds to the area, located about 2,050km south of the Chilean capital, Santiago.

Juan Cayupi, a volcanologist investigating the earthquake for the government, said it "triggered several landslides from neighboring hills into the sea, causing the level of water to rise steeply, violently, in the form of huge waves."

Cayupi, who was at the fjord at the time of the quake, said by telephone that the waters were calm on Sunday.

Saturday's early afternoon quake sent people into the streets in a panic at Puerto Aysen and Puerto Chacabuco, the closest cities to the fjord, with a combined population of 35,000.

Puerto Aysen Mayor Oscar Catalan was at the beach and saw six people being pulled away by the current, the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio said.

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