Chile quake death toll up

Monday, March 1, 2010

Santiago - More than thirty hours after an earthquake measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale, hit south-central Chile, the death toll reached 708 on Sunday while rescue and relief efforts are underway.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet told a news conference that the number of those killed is expected to increase further.

"The last number I have is 708," said Bachelet, adding that the country was facing "a catastrophe of such unthinkable magnitude" and would need enormous efforts to recover.

Among the dead, 541 people was in the Maule region, 64 in Bio Bio, and a further 103 deaths were from other affected areas.

In the Maule region, more than 350 people died in the coastal town of Constitution after the mega quake and an ensuing tsunami.

Media reports also said around 400 people disappeared on Sunday morning after the huge waves off Orrego island, located at the outfall of the Maule river, hit Constitution.

Earlier, the president said over 2 million people out of the 16.6 million Chileans were affected. Over 1.5 million buildings were damaged or destroyed.

Some estimates put the total damage at between $15 billion and $30 billion, equal to 10 percent to 20 percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product.

In the hardest-hit town of Concepcion, 115 kilometers from the epicenter of the quake, which is off the coast of Maule region, the whole downtown area was razed to the ground.