Chile quake-area still shaking, death toll unclear

Updated: 2010-03-06 14:40
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CONCEPCION, Chile - Strong aftershocks rattled south-central Chile on Friday, panicking residents nearly a week after one of the most powerful earthquakes on record devastated coastal towns and killed hundreds of people.

The government of outgoing President Michelle Bachelet, facing criticism for its slow response to the quake, said it was revising the death toll after authorities mistakenly tallied scores of missing people who later turned up alive.

Officials said they had now identified 452 victims. They did not give a number for unidentified bodies or missing people and backed off a previous figure of more than 800 deaths.

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Many people who survived the 8.8-magnitude quake on February 27 were killed hours later by a massive tsunami, outraging Chileans who say there was no warning the waves were coming.

The Chilean Navy acknowledged there was a breakdown in its tsunami-alert system and on Friday it fired the head of the agency in charge of issuing catastrophe warnings.

In ravaged Concepcion, Chile's second-largest city, some people ran out of their houses or jumped out of the vehicles where they had been sleeping since the quake as seven intense aftershocks shook the area on Friday.
The strongest of the aftershocks was 6.6 in magnitude.

"Some chunks of buildings that were already in bad condition fell but nothing significant," the top government official in quake-hit Bio Bio region told local radio.

The February 27 quake and the giant waves destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes, wrecked bridges and roads and cracked modern buildings in half in the capital, Santiago.

The disaster also wreaked havoc on some of Chile's famous wineries, spilling millions of litres of wine from cracked barrels, and briefly shut down some of the world's richest copper mines.

The Navy said there was no risk of tsunamis from the new aftershocks. People did not stray too far into the streets of Concepcion because the army had imposed a curfew until midday to control sporadic looting.

"This was the strongest (aftershock) yet. As soon as I felt it, I thought 'Here we go again'," said Cristian Ruiz, 38, who works in the fishing industry in Concepcion.