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Fresh Quake Hits Chile Ahead of National Mourning

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A new 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit northern Chile on Thursday, as the country is about to start a three-day national mourning period for the victims of last week's massive tremor that killed over 800 people.

New quakes and aftershocks

New quakes and aftershocks continued to shake the Southern American nation after Saturday's quake, one of the strongest recorded.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) said on Thursday that a new 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit Antofagasta in northern Chile.

It said the earthquake was not related to the one registered on Saturday in the country's central south region. Its epicenter is 87 km northwest of Calama and 1,574 km north of the capital city of Santiago.

The quake can be felt in the northern areas, and triggered panic.

Chile's National Emergency Office said this earthquake brings no risk of tsunami.

Carmen Fernandez, head of the office, said it was not an aftershock of last week's megaquake.

In Calama, schools, businesses and workplaces are closed.

The northern areas affected by the quake is mainly desert. So far no casualties and material damages were reported.

On Wednesday, strong aftershocks of magnitude 5.5 and higher were felt in several cities, including the capital city of Santiago.

National Mourning and recovery

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced on Thursday that starting Sunday, national flags will fly half-mast nationwide for three days.

In an interview with Chilean radio, she also predicted the nation's recovery from the 8.8-magnitude quake on Feb. 27 will take "three to four years," noting that "there are rural areas where everything has tumbled to the ground... infrastructure has been destroyed."

The cost of the damage is estimated at between US$15 billion and US$30 billion.

Bachelet said Chile has the resources for reconstruction, but will have to ask for external aid.

The president also defended her government's response to the earthquake, saying "everything humanly possible has been done."

She said the government has distributed 8,200 tons of relief materials to the two worst-affected regions.

The president also said the reconstruction will mainly be the mandate of the new government of President-elect Sebastian Pinera who will take office on March 11.

Pinera has promised that his government will be devoted to reconstruction and laid out a four-step blueprint, including coping with the emergency needs of citizens, searching the missing people, providing prompt assistance to the sick and wounded, and restoring law and order.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is to visit Chile on Friday to assess the damage and meet both Bachelet and Pinera.

His trip includes a visit to Concepcion, Chile's second-largest and hardest-hit town in last week's massive quake.

The official tally of the death toll from last week's quake stood at 802. But that number is expected to grow further as many people are still missing, especially in central and southern coastal areas.

The quake, centered 325 km south-west of Santiago, is the worst disaster for Chile in half a century and has affected about 2 million out of 16 million Chileans. About 1.5 million buildings were damaged or destroyed.

The tremor also triggered a powerful tsunami that swamped towns and fishing villages along the coast, destroying ports, schools and hospitals.

Widespread looting

The quake has also triggered man-made chaos: widespread looting.

At first, the looters targeted supermarkets in Concepcion and surrounding towns. Then, they turned to clothing boutiques and electronics stores, and burned some of them to the ground in a frenzy.

Aftershocks and the threat of another tsunami have prompted more looting in the last few days.

To restore social order, Bachelet has ordered more troop deployments in the quake-ravaged central and southern regions, bringing troop levels there to 7,000.

A curfew remains in place in Concepcion and six other cities that were severely damaged by the quake.

(Xinhua News Agency March 5, 2010)