- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 2, 2010

SANTIAGO, Chile — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made a small dent in Chile’s growing needs following a massive earthquake, handing over 25 satellite phones while promising more on Tuesday in the country’s capital.

“We stand ready to help in any way that the government of Chile asks us to. We want to help Chile, who has done so much to help others,” Mrs. Clinton said during a brief visit that took her nowhere near areas with heavy damage. She spent most of her time at the airport, which appeared unscathed.

Mrs. Clinton gave one of the phones directly to President Michelle Bachelet, who had said shortly after last week’s earthquake in Chile that her country did not need much help from other nations. That changed as the magnitude of the disaster became clear — power, water, food and medical care are urgent needs in the country’s second-largest city, Concepcion, and along a coast hit by both the quake and a resulting tsunami.

The United States has pledged additional help, including a field hospital with surgical facilities that Mrs. Clinton said is “ready to go.”

Clinton faces critical hosts in Latin America
Tsunami swept away fleeing bus full of retirees
ADES: Will quake shake Chile’s solid economy?

The United States is sending more satellite phones, which work in areas where land lines and cell-phone towers are out of commission. Chile identified the phones as a high priority, Mrs. Clinton said.

Also on the way are eight water purification systems, generators, medical equipment and supplies. Other donations could include mobile kitchens, temporary bridges and helicopters. The amount of such aid will depend on what Chile requests, Mrs. Clinton said.

“We have these things in our country, but how can we get them to the people if we don’t have bridges and roads?” said Ms. Bachelet, who is nearing the end of her term in office.

Distribution of supplies is being done, Ms. Bachelet added, but “we need to do it very fast and get it to the remotest corners of the country and get it there soon.”

Ms. Bachelet said it is impossible to know the extent of damage now, but that one estimate is that is will cost $30 billion to rebuild.

With 2 million people affected and 500,000 homes damaged, “I can only say it will be a lot,” Ms. Bachelet said.

At the airport, Mrs. Clinton was also meeting with President-elect Sebastian Pinera.

If the initial U.S. donation seems small, U.S. officials say it is in part a reflection of Chile’s initial reluctance to ask for more. U.S. officials said Chile would not have to repay any U.S. assistance.

Chile’s neighbors already have acted.

Argentina on Monday flew in an Air Force C-130 with much of a hospital — including a surgical and intensive care unit, ambulance and laboratory — three water treatment plants and power generation units, the military announced.

Story Continues →