A dozen police officers, kept warm by an open fire, gathered in a school courtyard around one of the few operating TV sets in downtown Constitucion late on Friday to watch a telethon aimed at raising funds for their quake-hit country.
The 24-hour event was broadcast live from a theater in Santiago and hosted by the Chilean-born Don Francisco, a popular variety show host with the US Spanish-language network Univision.
The officers, known as Carabineros, were from a police school in Santiago who were rushed to this seaside resort town south of Santiago to help quell the looting that followed the massive magnitude 8.8 quake that struck the region one week ago. They were staying at a school next to the main town square.
“I want to ask you with all my heart to reach into your pocket for a donation,” said Soledad Onetto, a reporter from Channel 13 who Don Francisco interviewed.
Onetto gave a live report on how the country was recovering, speaking from a street nearby with collapsed walls and dangling wires in the background.
A tsunami that followed the earthquake slammed Constitucion’s waterfront, destroying seaside homes and businesses and sweeping a still unknown number of victims to sea.
Many of the roughly 800 quake victims were from the Constitucion area.
Don Francisco said that the theater where the show was held had a smaller crowd than usual — and with strong quake aftershocks still common in central Chile, he also mentioned that the building was earthquake-safe.
The officers perked up when Don Francisco introduced outgoing Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and visiting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Bachelet rallied Chileans, urging viewers to “join in helping those most in need.”
The UN leader began by praising Chile’s quick response to the Haitian earthquake last month.
“Now it is only natural that the international community should stand with the Chilean people in its time of need,” he said, with the host translating into Spanish.
He also mentioned the most affected Chilean town, including Constitucion, affectionately known locally as “Consti.”
One of the officers, Corporal Milton Munoz, had a lump in his throat after Bachelet and Ban spoke. When it comes to responding to the earthquake “there are no political differences,” he said. “Here we’re all together.”
But many Constitucion residents missed the show because power has not been fully restored to much of the city.
A large number of them also do not know the extent of the destruction: Hundreds have fled to the town’s hillside neighborhoods, and fearful of more quakes and another tsunami, have not returned.