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Destruction Seen Everywhere in Tsunami-hit Chilean Port

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Low casualties

Although infrastructure damage is severe, casualties in Talcahuano have been relatively low.

So far there have been only 20 deaths and 18 missing persons reported, said Jaime Romero Beltran, head of the town's emergency services.

The municipal government has been training people for such emergencies since 1835, when it was struck by a deadly tsunami, he said.

"People here have always known that if a quake is too strong for you to stand up and you live close to the sea, you must leave for the hills. More than 150 years of training is something that has helped a great deal," said the official.

Even so, Beltran believes that it will take at least 10 years for the town to fully recover. He hopes that the disaster could be turned into an opportunity for infrastructure improvement. But recovery will be difficult in the short run, he added.

"This is a very special situation. There is a new team taking over the nation, but also a change of philosophy alongside a change of staff," the official said.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet will be replaced by President-elect Sebastian Pinera on Thursday. It will the first time that a leftist president transfers power to a rightist president since the end of the military dictatorship in 1990.

"Water will be everywhere in the town within 15 days," Romero said. "But it is impossible to restore everything that has been destroyed."

In the meantime, Romero said that the local government is turning away offers of emergency housing because it wants to build with proper planning rather than institutionalizing the short-term camps.

"There are 6,500 homes destroyed and more than 30,000 people made homeless. Around 180,000 people live here and 106,000 people have been affected. It is a gigantic task," he said. "We want to be planning the city with better homes. We don't want tents everywhere."

(Xinhua News Agency March 8, 2010)

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