QUILLAGUA, Chile – Residents of this tiny desert town expressed hope Friday that their first visit ever by a Chilean president will spur recovery after a huge earthquake damaged dozens of homes.
Touring the region the day before, President Michelle Bachelet promised that within 15 days the most urgent housing problems would be solved in Quillagua, where about half of the hamlet's 60 homes were damaged.
"We had strong earthquakes here before," said resident Erwin Delgado. "Let's hope this time we will really be helped after her visit."
But others worried that the damage could be tough to overcome in rapidly shrinking Quillagua, where decades of nearby copper mining have reduced river levels and contaminated what little water still flows, making small farming difficult. Today it is home to just 100 mostly elderly residents, down from several hundred a decade ago.
"There are no jobs here," said Jorge Mena, director of the local school which has only seven students left. "The only ones with an assured salary were the paramedic and myself."
All told, the quake killed 2 people, injured more than 150 and left 15,000 homeless in northern Chile, officials say.
Locals have taken to calling it a "hypocrite quake," saying many houses have an intact front but are badly damaged inside. Residents have demanded — and Bachelet promised — government vouchers to rebuild.
The government airlifted an additional 30 tons of aid to the region Friday including food, tents, mattresses, blankets, medicines and other emergency supplies. But residents complained that water is scarce and they lack receptacles to store water being distributed by military trucks.
Health officials were vaccinating more than 14,000 children against hepatitis in the hard-hit cities of Tocopilla and Maria Elena.
Frequent aftershocks continued to rattle nerves, and many frightened residents were still sleeping outside or in their cars. University of Chile seismologist Carlos Aranda said such activity is normal after a large quake and could last for a couple of months.