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Chile accepts international aid

Eleanor Hall reported this story on Monday, March 1, 2010 12:14:00

ELEANOR HALL: Chile's Ambassador in Australia is Jose Luis Balmaceda is joining us now from
Canberra.

Ambassador thanks for making yourself available. We've just been hearing that emergency workers are
still making their way to devastated parts of the country. What is your estimate now of the number
of people affected?

JOSE LUIS BALMACEDA: Well, first of all Eleanor thank you so much for your concern about the
situation is Chile. As you know Chile has been thrown into a dramatic situation. Eighty per cent of
the country has been affected by this earthquake and resulting tsunami.

I mean, you already mentioned in your program that we have experience in earthquake but we never
thought that the country was going to be affected by the magnitude of this earthquake which
compromise 80 per cent of the country.

The number of fatalities that we have got in recent times is around 712 and they are 36 per cent in
Santiago. We have in Santiago still five people disappear. In the Sixth region is the number of
casualties is 46. Two disappear in the Seventh region, 541 with four disappear. In the Eighth
region which is Concepcion and Talcahuano, 64 and in the Ninth region, five.

But the part of Chile most affected is definitely the Seventh region which includes Constitucion,
Iloca, Quidico and Talca, where we have 541 people that passed away.

ELEANOR HALL: Can you tell us more about Constitucion? Are you getting news now from there about
just how bad it was closest to the epicentre?

JOSE LUIS BALMACEDA: Yeah. Constitucion not only suffered the earthquake but also it suffered a
tsunami which took place 15 minutes after the earthquake. You mentioned that the magnitude of the
earthquake on the Richter scale was 8.8 in that part of Chile while in Santiago it reached 8.2.

But as I said before in the case of Constitucion, it was affected by a tsunami 15 minutes later and
the size of the waves were between eight and 10 metres, and went into the mainland between three
and five kilometres.

So not only part of Constitucion was completely destroyed but a large number of small villages
close to Constitucion also disappeared.

ELEANOR HALL: So what are the most urgent concerns for the Chilean Government right now?

JOSE LUIS BALMACEDA: Well, obviously providing water and food to those people that lost their homes
and this has been the main task because we are really concerned about the situation especially in
Concepcion and the area of Constitucion, yeah.

ELEANOR HALL: How worried are you about the looting? People say they are so desperate because there
is no alternative?

JOSE LUIS BALMACEDA: Well, that is true. That is true and because of that the Government decided to
put a curfew which will last from midnight to 6 o'clock in the morning and the Government also
asked the military to get involved in this humanitarian task.

But with regard to the request for international aid, if you allow me, we need from counties that
are willing to contribute to Chile, saltwater purification system, structural damage assessment
systems to check the hospitals, schools and other buildings.

Field hospitals with surgical capability, satellite telephones and transmission stations,
mechanically operated bridges, electricity generators, temporary accommodation including tents and
shelters, autonomous dialling centres, collapsible dining tables and emergency response rescue
teams.

ELEANOR HALL: So earlier today your Government said it wasn't accepting international offers of
help but you are now saying that has changed?

JOSE LUIS BALMACEDA: Yeah, that has changed because the President was clear about this point
because she didn't want to start accepting international help before being clear about the needs of
the country.

And this was finally, this question was finally solved late last night and was sent to all the
embassies around the world and I have been in touch with AusAid during the whole morning and with
DFAT about these needs and I guess that AusAid will take the necessary measures in order to provide
part of the requirements that we need.

ELEANOR HALL: Ambassador the Government of Michelle Bachalet is only in power for another 10 days
when the president-elect Sebastian Pinera will take power. How difficult is it managing a disaster
of this scale at a time of political transition?

JOSE LUIS BALMACEDA: Well, fortunately both presidents have been working together and not only the
presidents but the present cabinet and the new cabinet, they have been working together as well so
there is no problem at all. On the contrary, the two presidents have been working hand in hand.

ELEANOR HALL: Jose Luis Balmaceda, thanks very much for joining us.

JOSE LUIS BALMACEDA: Not at all, thank you.

ELEANOR HALL: And that is Chile's ambassador in Australia talking about the latest on the massive
earthquake disaster in his country.