Strong aftershocks from a powerful earthquake hit northern Chile on Thursday as the government erected a working military hospital and promised hundreds of portable dwellings for 15,000 left homeless by the quake.
Government and army workers scrambled to distribute tons of food, water, and medicine after the 7.7 magnitude quake struck near the desert village of Quillagua in the foothills of the Andes on Wednesday, killing at least two people and injuring more than 150.
Major aftershocks shook the region Thursday, including one of magnitude 6.2 and another of magnitude 6.8, the U.S. Geological Survey said. There were no immediate reports of further damage or injuries.
The earthquake destroyed or damaged 4,000 houses and the local hospital, blocking roads, crushing cars, and knocking out power across northern Chile, officials said.
This port city of 27,000 and the nearby mining town of María Elena were the hardest hit, and presidential spokesperson Ricardo Lagos Weber said both would be declared disaster areas to expedite aid delivery.
Aftershocks Don't Sway President
President Michelle Bachelet flew to the area Thursday, meeting with residents in a debris-strewn Tocopilla street when the strongest aftershock hit. Her bodyguards watched warily as power posts swung around her, but the president remained calm.
Residents shouted and held up signs demanding help, and Bachelet assured them that the government would issue both credits and grants. She said it would take a month to assess the damage.
"There is much fear and despair, and that is normal," Bachelet told them. "But people should organize and respond to emergency plans."
The president was accompanied by four cabinet chiefs including Housing Minister Patricia Poblete, who said many structures cannot be saved. Firefighters and other workers began demolishing the most severely damaged homes.
Two women were killed in Tocopilla, 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the epicenter, when their houses collapsed, authorities said.
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