Sat, Nov 17, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Chilean leader inspects damage from earthquake

AP , TOCOPILLA, CHILE AND QUITO

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet didn't flinch when a magnitude-6.8 aftershock -- a major earthquake in its own right -- hit the rubble-filled street where she was reassuring residents left homeless by a major temblor.

Bodyguards tried to move the president to safety on Thursday as power poles around her swung wildly and women in the crowd edged nervously away. But Bachelet kept smiling, calmly reassuring survivors that the government would help them.

"We are here, in the field, working to help you," Bachelet said. "But be calm. I can't to go to every house to check. There's no need to see all of them."

The president flew to several northern Chilean towns on Thursday to see firsthand the damage caused by a magnitude-7.7 earthquake the day before that killed two people, injured more than 150 and left 15,000 homeless.

Her government sent hundreds of portable homes to the region on Thursday and set up a military hospital in Tocopilla after the local hospital was badly damaged. Government workers and soldiers scrambled to distribute tons of food, water and medicine.

MAJOR AFTERSHOCKS

As they worked, major aftershocks shook the area. The US Geological Survey measured one as 6.2 on the Richter scale and another as 6.8. Chile's Emergency Bureau said there was no further damage from the aftershocks.

Hardest hit by the Chile quake were Tocopilla, a port city of 27,000, and the smaller, nearby mining town of Maria Elena. Presidential spokesman Ricardo Lagos Weber said both would be declared disaster areas to expedite aid delivery.

"There is much fear and despair, and that is normal," Bachelet told Tocopilla residents. "But people should organize and respond to emergency plans."

Bachelet also visited tiny Quillagua, the closest town to the epicenter, with a population around 100. One person suffered minor injuries there and 15 houses were damaged.

ECUADOR, PERU

A powerful earthquake shook the border region between Ecuador and Peru late on Thursday, but there were no reports of injuries or damage.

The magnitude 6.7 quake was felt throughout Ecuador and in northern Peru. The US Geological Survey said it was centered about 234km south-southeast of Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city.

"There are reports that the quake was felt throughout the country," Ecuador's Geophysics Institute said. "So far there were no reports of damage."

Chile's, Peru's and Ecuador's Pacific coastlines all lie along the intersection of the Nazca and South American tectonic plates, one of the world's most seismically active regions.

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