Troops patrol quake-hit city under curfew

Soldiers patrol along a major highway. (REUTERS)

Chilean soldiers patrolled the desolate streets of the country's second-biggest city yesterday after a curfew was extended to stem worsening looting and crime in the wake of a devastating earthquake.

A night-time curfew in the badly damaged city of Concepcion was prolonged until midday after hordes of desperate residents smashed into shuttered stores, stripping shelves bare and carting off whatever they could find left.

Some people armed with sticks and shotguns banded together with neighbours to protect their stricken homes and many complained that government food aid and other supplies were arriving too slowly. Despite the arrival of thousands of troops to reinforce local police, authorities were struggling to restore order in the city that bore the brunt of Saturday morning's 8.8-magnitude earthquake that killed at least 723 people.

"The soldiers just arrived and haven't been able to control the situation. The neighbours where I live are organising to defend themselves because people are starting to rob houses," Caroline Contreras, a 36-year-old teacher, said.

President Michelle Bachelet, who condemned the "pillage and criminality", dispatched 7,000 soldiers and imposed curfew to restore order in the stricken region, where more strong aftershocks rattled nerves yesterday.

 

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