- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 3, 2010

SANTIAGO, Chile | Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made a small dent in Chile’s growing needs after a massive earthquake, handing over 25 satellite phones Tuesday while promising more 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 to Chile that took her nowhere near areas with heavy damage. She spent most of her time at an undamaged area of the airport.

Elsewhere in the country, Chile’s government used helicopters and boats to step up food aid to desperate survivors as the death toll rose to nearly 800.

Chileans desperate for food and water swarmed soldiers as an army helicopter touched down in the devastated coastal town of Constitucion, which was hit by three giant waves set off by Saturday’s massive 8.8 magnitude earthquake.

Meeting with the country’s president-elect, billionaire businessman Sebastian Pinera, Mrs. Clinton said there has been no discussion of sending U.S. troops to help distribute aid or keep order, as was done in Haiti after the far more deadly earthquake there in January.

Mrs. Clinton gave one of the donated phones directly to current President Michelle Bachelet, who had said shortly after the quake 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.”

The Chilean government dispatched more troops to restore order in Concepcion, which was placed under curfew for 18 hours a day after looters raided stores and burned a supermarket.

Ms. Bachelet said Tuesday that order had been restored in the city, which bore the brunt of the quake along with coastal towns.

Constitucion, with a population of nearly 40,000, accounts for nearly half of the official death toll, which Ms. Bachelet said rose to 795. Surrounded by three hills, the town was turned into a ruin of flattened homes and toppled buildings. Wooden homes perched atop the hillsides were among the only buildings left standing.

Dozens of bodies were lined up on the floor of a makeshift morgue in a high-school gymnasium, and officials estimated that between 100 and 500 people were still unaccounted for.

Some people armed with sticks and shotguns banded together with neighbors in Concepcion to protect their stricken homes and many complained that government food aid and other supplies were arriving too slowly.

With tensions still high in Concepcion, soldiers were delivering food and other basic supplies house to house.

Food, blankets and medical equipment were being sent to some of the estimated 2 million people affected by the quake, but residents complained of skyrocketing prices for everyday staples such as bread and milk.

From combined dispatches

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