Sec. Of State Clinton Arrives In Chile ‘To Offer Support’ As Country Deals With Earthquake

During a scheduled trip to Latin America, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived in Chile Tuesday “to offer support” after a major earthquake struck over the weekend, Bloomberg/BusinessWeek reports (Boyd/Smith, 3/2).  

Though the Chilean government initially passed on outside aid, it “changed course” and requested international assistance on Monday, according to the New York Times (Barrionuevo/Lacey, 3/1). Clinton brought 20 satellite phones with her and will use the trip to “assess what the United States can do to help the country recover,” USA Today reports. She said the U.S. is offering “whatever assistance the government might need” and that U.S. emergency response teams are “on standby,” according to USAToday.

Since the quake hit, “communications” have been a major problem, according to Clinton. Alicia Barcena, executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, said the U.N. will send 45 satellite phones and can send 30 tons of food and other types of aid if Chile wants it (Dilanian, 3/1). Bloomberg/BusinessWeek reports that “Chile asked the United Nations for mobile bridges, electric generators, water purification systems and field kitchens” (3/2).

At a press conference on Monday, State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley said in addition to communications support, the U.S will start to provide Chile with a field hospital and water-purification systems, Foreign Policy’s blog, “The Cable,” reports. “Whatever they think they need, we will provide,” he said. He also noted that USAID, not the U.S. military, will oversee the response (Rogin, 3/2).

Although “Chile has always been considered Latin America’s most earthquake-ready country … the powerful quake that jolted Chileans awake has left the country reeling,” the New York Times writes, adding that transportation has been disrupted in some areas and that looting and robberies have been reported. “The quake has also exposed the fact, experts say, that although Chile is one of the most developed countries in the region, it is also one of the most unequal, with huge pockets of urban and rural poor, who suffered most in the quake” (3/1).

“The extent of damage is still unknown in Chile, but countries around the globe have mobilized to offer their support for the 2 million that are estimated to be displaced,” the Christian Science Monitor writes (Llana/Witte, 3/1).

Officials are trying to determine the extent of the damage and response efforts are underway, but they have been “undermined by a string of aftershocks Monday that turned more buildings into rubble,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

According to the newspaper, “Most of the confirmed deaths so far are in the Maule region on the Chilean coast, which was closest to the epicenter. As much as 80% of some towns in the region was destroyed, officials said.” The immediate priority, according to government officials, is restoring electricity, especially in hospitals. On Sunday, Rodrigo Castillo, head of the electric power companies association said, “In general, we are going to be able to restore electricity in the next 24 hours in most of the country” (Esposito/Abarca/Moffett, 3/1).

In a second article, the Wall Street Journal examines why some earthquakes cause more damage than others. “What makes modern quakes particularly devastating are megacities located near seismically active zones. ‘Earthquakes don’t kill people, buildings kill people,’ says David Wald of the National Earthquake Information Center of the [U.S. Geological Survey]. That is especially true in poorer countries where many buildings are shoddily designed and constructed from weak materials, or they simply fail to meet basic building standards” (Naik, 3/1).

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