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Grief, hunger grow in ruins of Chilean town

 Reuters 17 May 2019

(Originally published: 03/2010) Kneeling over a row of body bags on the floor of a school gymnasium, Salome Tobita softly kissed the purple hand of her dead son. "My God, my son has gone, my love!" she wailed, grasping the young man's cold hand between her palms. (528 words) - By Terry Wade

Reuters 2

Courtesy of Reuters

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CONSTITUCION, Chile - Kneeling over a row of body bags on the floor of a school gymnasium, Salome Tobita softly kissed the purple hand of her dead son.

 

"My God, my son has gone, my love!" she wailed, grasping the young man's cold hand between her palms.

 

Chilean emergency workers in white plastic overalls, hoods and gas masks comforted her as they sought to match bodies with fingerprints.

 

Tobita and other residents of Constitucion suffered a twin catastrophe on Saturday 27 February, when a massive earthquake flattened much of the seaside town's historic centre before huge waves swept in, killing many who had survived the temblor.

 

The death toll in Constitucion and nearby communities along the Pacific coast will far outnumber those in hard-hit Concepcion, the biggest city in Chile's central region, officials say.

 

The quake killed at least 795 people across the country, with some 350 of the dead in Constitucion. At the time of going to press, estimates of the number of missing in the town range from 100 to 500.

 

About 73 bodies have been brought to the makeshift morgue at the high school gym, and the pungent smell of death lingered in the rubble-strewn streets, where rescue crews and sniffer dogs kept searching for victims on Tuesday.

 

On the battered shorefront, a red-and-white tourist train was buried in muck, overturned trucks sat in gardens, and only the foundations remained of houses swept away by the tsunami.

 

Half of the victims here drowned, while the rest were crushed when buildings collapsed on them, said Hernan Casas Cordero, the manager of the morgue.

 

 

<i>SCOURING FOR BODIES</i>

 

Teams of divers scoured the banks of a river for people who drowned when huge waves lashed the shoreline and sent a swell of water six km (3.7 miles) upstream. The river normally empties into the Pacific.

 

Several blocks inland, dark water stains were more than a meter (3.3 feet) high on the few remaining houses where residents shovelled mud out of their kitchens.

 

"Those who went inland up the hill, survived, those who didn't are no longer here," said Manuel Parra, 64, whose house was lifted and smashed into a palm tree 30 meters (100 feet) away.

 

"We stayed in our house during the quake, and then my wife started worrying about the sea coming in ... So about 20 minutes later, after we saw the sea pulling back, which always precedes a big wave, we scrambled inland," he said.

 

Residents say they have struggled to find food or water since the quake and any help that has arrived has been slow and inadequate.

 

Several hundred people lined up at a food pantry on Tuesday, and the army said it had calmed unrest in the town, Some people had broken into supermarkets to steal food, water and diapers for their babies.

 

Crowds rushed around an army helicopter bringing supplies and soldiers suspended search and rescue efforts to focus on handing out food and other goods to hungry residents.

 

"We don't have anything, no milk or clothes. We don't have diapers for our babies," said Mila Godoy, 54, who said she was diabetic and asthmatic.

 

"They finally remembered Constitucion exists."

Copyright 2010 Thomson Reuters. Click For Restrictions

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