IQUIQUE, Chile – Chilean officials said Friday that water, fuel, electricity and other essential services are being re-established three days after a powerful magnitude-8.2 earthquake and hundreds of aftershocks that have rattled the country's far northern regions. But pockets of poor people living in substandard housing were still suffering the brunt of the disaster.
The government also issued a three-month health alert for the quake-hit regions. It grants officials more resources to avoid the spread of infectious diseases by coping with trash and contaminated water from rotting fish in port cities.
"There will not be any fuel supply problems in any of the regions affected by the quake and drinking water services are being re-established," presidential spokesman Alvaro Elizalde told reporters in the capital, Santiago, after President Bachelet and her Cabinet met to discuss the emergency.
"Water connection has reached a relatively high point, but we still have a way to go so that all cities can count on these basic services."
Water, power and other basic services had yet to return to Alto Hospicio, a poor area in the hills above Iquique that was one of the worst-hit by the quake, which killed six people in all. About 2,600 homes were damaged there and the main road connecting it to Iquique has been blocked by debris after massive landslides.
"The bricks began falling with the quake and aftershocks, and I was left looking at my neighbor through a huge crack in the wall," said Aide Reyes, 60, who has been sleeping in a tent at a makeshift camp outside Alto Hospicio with her children and her month's old grandson.
Her neighbors shared cooking pots as well as the little food they had. "We have no water or electricity since the first quake," Reyes said. "There's no bread and we're trying to buy wheat to make tortillas."
In Iquique, a port city of nearly 200,000 people, small-scale fishermen continued to recover the little that was left from boats damaged by quake-spawned waves and called for government help.
Soldiers kept a close watch on supermarkets and gas stations to prevent looting as many people continued to line up on Friday for gasoline, water and food. The city remained largely peaceful and no new major damage or casualties were reported from the continuing aftershocks that have rattled the sleep-deprived citizens of Chile's north.
Schools remained closed and hospitals have been handling only emergencies. About a dozen babies had been born in makeshift camps run by doctors and midwifes since the quake struck.
Luis Henao reported from Santiago. Eva Vergara contributed to this report.
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