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Hardest-hit City Nearly Destroyed in Chile After Megaquake, Looting Erupts

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Complete demolishment of downtown Consepcion and fear for more aftershocks have driven the residents of the hardest-hit city to the open ground as the earthquake survivors here waited desperately for promised food.

A lot of buildings in the city had collapsed and downtown Concepcion was virtually razed to the ground -- a scene Xinhua reporters saw upon arriving here on Sunday after a ten-hour drive from Santiago.

Cracks left by the quake were seen everywhere on the highway connecting the two cities and road conditions were extremely bad.

"All buildings in the city are empty because no one dare spend the night inside," said Zhang Hui, an employee at a local company.

"Though there has been no serious aftershocks in the city since Saturday night, a lot of people abandoned their homes and chose to gather in the city square and other open air areas overnight," he said.

Gripped with fear that more tremors would follow, some people even moved to the nearby hilltops, he added.

As far as he has learned, Zhang said there was no casualties of Chinese nationals. But he said local residents desperately need water, food and shelter.

Extreme lack of living necessities also spurred shop lootings and robberies in the city. Police used tear gas and watern cannons to disperse looters in a supermarket.

In addition to policemen, there're also heavily-armed troops patrolling around the streets.

The lack of water is a big problem, Zhang told Xinhua. Some people spent the night in mountain parks only because they could find spring water there. "Now a lot of people carry big buckets to get water there."

As for himself, Zhang just washed his face in a roadside fountain and also picked up some water.

"Rain started to fall by early Sunday morning. There wasn't heavy rain, but the temperature was reduced," he said, adding current temperature in the city is around 10 degrees Celsius and it feels "pretty cool."

Many people lived in makeshift tents, but others like Zhang, had to stay in open-air.

Media reports said some 100 people were feared trapped in a ruined apartment building. Firefighters worked day and night, using drills and shovels to search for signs of life.

People are extremely upset because there was no public transport, no food, and all public services are gone.

A magnitude-8.8 earthquake struck off Chile's Maule region early Saturday morning, and the strong tremor was left in many cities in central and southern regions of the country.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said on Sunday that the death toll of the earthquake reached 708 and was likely to increase as rescue went on.

Chile's national emergency office said Region VII and Region VIII are the hardest-hit areas in the quake. Concepcion, capital of Region VIII and second-largest city of the country, was the hardest-hit town.

(Xinhua News Agency March 1, 2010)

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