Pelluhue, Chile (AFP) March 2, 2010
The Chilean seaside resort of Pelluhue was transformed into a sandy wasteland without warning -- one giant wave, then another, then scores of homes disappeared.
The further Chilean emergency services go after the huge earthquake that sparked a twin tsunami, the more grim discoveries they make.
"This part was full of houses. There were more than 100," said Silvia Aparicio, a community leader, pointing to the Pelluhue beachfront.
"And that's nothing compared to what happened in the Marisquero," she added of a nearby district named after the shell fisherman who once lived here.
Many tourists were asleep in their beds when the deafening roar came from nowhere.
"There was no warning. The waves surged in 40 minutes after the earthquake which took place at 3:25 am," said Aparicio, who lives at the top of the town.
"There were two, then a bigger one. The sound was deafening," she said.
Four days after the quake, Pelluhue, some 300 kilometers (185 miles) from Santiago, remains a scene of desolation and sorrow.
Fallen tree trunks barring a road testify to the fury of the tsunami that firefighters say swept away several hundred houses in all along the coast.
So far, rescue workers have counted 57 dead in Pelluhue and another 28 in nearby Curenipe, both close to the epicenter of the quake, which is said to have killed at least 795 people.
Officials said the tsunami ravaged 200 kilometers (120 miles) of coastline, and warned that the death toll could top 1,000 in the Maule area alone.
"The tsunami affected 200 kilometers of coastline, at places sweeping 2,000 meters inland," General Bosco Pesse, who is running emergency operations in the region of a quarter million people, told AFP.
"Some 600 people died in this area, but the toll could climb to 1,000."
In addition to the dead in the region, an unknown number are missing, said senior firefighter Wagner Alvear Flores.
Most are Chilean tourists who flocked to this village of farmers and fishermen to spend their summer holidays. Many slept when the tsunami barrelled in.
Nearby, four men loaded up a truck with some chairs, a push-chair, a bed frame, a few pieces of furniture left from their vacation home, one of the few oceanfront houses to survive.
"We're returning to Curico (roughly 150 kilometers away). We cannot remain here," said Oscar Henriquez.
A police car drove past behind him, blasting a warning to residents by loudspeaker: "Curfew at 9:00 pm!"
"Soldiers came here yesterday to maintain order since there have been a lot of robberies," Aparicio said.
President Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday doubled to 14,000 the number of troops deployed to the coastal areas to help the aid effort and stop looting.
"We understand your urgent suffering, but we also know that these are criminal acts that will not be tolerated," Bachelet said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flew into Santiago bringing 20 satellite phones to help the aid operation and said US aid teams were on standby to help if needed.
"They can't communicate into Concepcion and some of the surrounding areas," she said, referring to Chile's worst hit second city. "They've been blocked getting into some remote areas."
The first aid shipment also arrived in this seaside resort Monday, but the town remains without water and electricity. The supermarket is closed because there is nothing left to sell.
Some people have opted to camp on the town heights. All face a long night ahead. "I'm very scared," Aparicio said, "because the aftershocks are stronger during the night."
Regional administrator Fernando Coloma Amaro said drinking water was being restored in most places, except along the coast. "We have dispatched trucks of water and food to Constitucion," he added, referring to a town badly damaged in the quake.
"We are continuing to search for corpses in the coastal region," he said, adding one of the major tasks was identifying the missing.
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'The wave covered everything': Chile tsunami survivor
Penco, Chile (AFP) Feb 28, 2010
Telltale traces of sand, mud and seaweed clung Sunday to the sides of restaurants, homes and anything else not washed away when a giant wave spawned by Chile's 8.8-magnitude quake engulfed the seaside town of Penco. The tsunami engulfed the normally placid Penco and neighboring villages, swallowing up homes here and washing away livelihoods. "The wave came and covered everything. It was ... read more
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