Page last updated at 20:46 GMT, Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Chile's curfew city tense amid aftershocks and looting

Soldier patrols empty street in Concepcion during curfew - 2 March 2010
Concepcion was empty of most people except soldiers during the curfew

By Will Grant
BBC News, Concepcion

The drive down to Concepcion from Santiago passes through some spectacular countryside.

After travelling past the vineyards of the wine-making region the landscape becomes more rugged as you head into Bio-Bio region and Chile's second city.

But since this city was rocked by Saturday's earthquake, the normally modern and well-developed roads are now twisted and broken throughout the route.

After a journey beset by fallen bridges and long diversions, the final approach into the province of Concepcion came to a frustrating halt just kilometres from the city.

The military set up a 16-hour long curfew and were escorting just the most important aid vehicles past the disturbances.

We've been defending our homes from the looters
Eduardo Santos
Concepcion resident

As the young lieutenant explained the situation to a crowd of drivers waiting to enter Concepcion, the ground shook twice in quick succession.

The daily aftershocks are still very noticeable here.

After some negotiation we're given the piece of paper which grants us access to the quake zone.

It is a few kilometres down the road that the scope of this earthquake at last becomes clear.

We pass by a destroyed shopping mall and half-a-dozen collapsed buildings on our arrival.

Hundreds of soldiers are patrolling the streets and evidence of the recent looting is everywhere.

Yet by arriving during a curfew, Concepcion is eerily devoid of cars and almost of people.

'No help'

At a destroyed apartment block, where apparently eight bodies have been pulled from the rubble, rescue workers are still searching for survivors using sniffer dogs.

They're concerned too about a half-finished apartment block which they say has been structurally damaged and could collapse at any moment.

Given the constant earth tremors beneath us, it's a distinct possibility.

Then suddenly, the city emerges from its strict curfew.


Thousands of drivers are on the streets trying to reach the nearby town of San Pedro to find clean water and safe shelter.

Others, however, can't leave.

"We've been defending our homes from the looters," Eduardo Santos tells me, standing outside a badly-cracked apartment block which he and his family are too frightened to sleep in.

Instead, they are living in a hastily-erected tent with several other families from the same building.

The authorities just walk past us and don't help, he says pointing to some of the troops posted to the city who are dealing with a damaged bridge.

Eduardo makes another emergency run into his apartment to get fresh water but refuses to stay there more than a couple of minutes.

That has put him in conflict with the troops who want everyone off the streets by nightfall and with the looters who may try again to break into his empty home.

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