Damage in Chile 'Much Greater' Than Thought: Relief Group

Damage from Saturday's enormous 8.8 earthquake in Chile, which has left over 700 dead so far, is worse than previously thought, one relief agency reports.

"The information that arises each time indicates that the effects are much greater than originally assessed," said Juan Salazar of relief agency FASIC, which is a member of the Action by Churches Together (ACT) Alliance.

Current reports estimate that the quake – one of the largest in recorded history – has destroyed nearly 1.5 million homes and caused damage in the range of $30 billion.

Chilean president Michelle Bachelet called the quake "an unthinkable catastrophe that will require an enormous effort in resources" and has requested international aid from the United Nations (U.N.).

Bachelet reported that nearly two million people were affected by the quake, which struck at 3:34 a.m. local time and destroyed roads and communications services.

The earthquake also triggered tsunami warnings, which have since been lifted.

Areas worst affected by the disaster include the coastal towns of Pelluhue and Constitucion, where 350 people were reported dead.

The Chilean government imposed a night-time curfew on the city of Concepcion in a bid to stop looting in the area, which the city's mayor said has gotten "out of control" according to Reuters.

"People have gone days without eating," looter Orlando Salazar, told Reuters. "The only option is to come here and get stuff for ourselves."

John Nduna, general secretary for ACT Alliance, whose has partner groups have workers in seven regions, says that many ACT members are already in place to lend support.

"Our members will try to supplement the effort of the government, especially in communities where our local partners have been operating for years," Nduna said.

Jose Abumohor, of Chile's national emergency centre, said efforts were already under way to restore public services.

"The aim is as soon as possible that we manage to reach a state of normality," he told ACT Alliance.

Meanwhile, the head of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Rev. Olav Tveit, has issued a letter of condolence to Bachelet, assuring the president of the group's "prayers for the Chilean people in these difficult times."

"As the Chilean people mourn the death of hundreds of Chileans because of the recent earthquake, I want to express on behalf of the World Council of Churches, and its fellowship of churches all over the world, our prayers and deep solidarity with you, the relatives and friends of the victims and the Chilean people," Tveit wrote.

Following remarks of appreciation for Bachelet's "immediate response" to the disaster and for "offers made by the United Nations and many countries," Tveit also spoke of the importance of the church in the tragedy, saying that "together with emergency response, pastoral accompaniment is urgently needed."

"Churches play a crucial role praying with the people, accompanying the people, strengthening their struggle and resilience and rebuilding hope," Tveit continued. "The WCC encourages churches to hold vigils and special services to join in prayers to God. As the Psalmist writes, God is our safety and refuge even when the earth heaved and quaked and the foundations of the mountains shook (Psalm 18: 2. 7).

Concluding his letter, Tveit said, "As I assure you of our prayers for the Chilean people in these difficult times, I call churches and specialized ministries to provide all their support to the work that needs to be done."

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