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CURRENT ISSUE:  March 8, 2010
VOL. 48, NO. 5   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Antioch parish adds nurse to ministry programs
Bishops urge bipartisan action on health care reform
Poorest hurt most in Chile quake

Outside a morgue in Constitucion, Chile, residents search for the names of relatives and friends who died when an 8.8 earthquake struck there Feb. 27. More than 800 were killed.

LIMA, Peru (CNS) — While media attention focuses on looting in Concepcion, the largest city near the epicenter of the magnitude 8.8 earthquake Feb. 27, Catholic Church workers struggle to reach quake victims in rural areas who are far from the spotlight.

“We are receiving funds to help the poorest people, who are in the countryside,” Father Waldo Alfaro, head of the Caritas Chile office in Linares, said March 1 in a telephone interview. Linares is in the Maule region, where most of the quake deaths occurred.

A mother pushes her son in a wheelbarrow past destruction in La Pezca, Chile, March 1. More than 800 people were killed when a massive earthquake struck the country’s central coast Feb. 27 and many others are feared dead from the tsunami that swept over coastal villages after the quake.
The earthquake, which struck at 3:34 a.m., triggered a tidal wave that was more than 30 feet high in places and which swept more than a mile inland. While some people reached high ground, others were washed away. Cars were left piled on top of houses, Father Alfaro said.

“The entire coast was hard-hit, but this is an area where the poorest rural residents live,” Father Alfaro said. “Aid is not reaching them because these are very small villages.”

Three trucks left Linares early March 2 to distribute supplies, especially food and water, to residents of far-flung villages in the farming region. The greatest need is for milk, water, food, fuel and cots for victims, as well as assistance in rebuilding houses that collapsed in the quake, Father Alfaro said.

The adobe houses common in the poorest rural regions “are the ones that collapsed,” he said. The Linares office of Caritas, the Church’s social assistance agency, is compiling an inventory of damaged and destroyed homes.

Meanwhile, buckled and cracked highways complicated aid distribution.

The national government is sending aid to the region by ship to bypass the buckled roads, damaged bridges and crowds of people who swarm vehicles that arrive in urban areas, he said.

Between 30 and 40 churches and chapels in the Linares Diocese were badly damaged or destroyed, along with two orphanages. In coastal villages, churches that remain standing have been turned into makeshift morgues.

The official death toll is more than 800, with the majority in the Maule region. But “many people are still missing,” Father Alfaro said. “There are many bodies that have not been identified.” The last weekend in February marked the end of summer vacation for students, and many families were spending a few final days on the coast, camping on the beach or visiting small resort and fishing villages.

While Church leaders mourned the deaths, they also called for solidarity and condemned the looting of stores and businesses.

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