Chile mourns earthquake victims
Flags to fly at half mast for three days as country recovers from devastating quake.
Last Modified: 08 Mar 2010 07:48 GMT
Ban said Chile helped Haiti after a major quake struck and it was now Chile's turn to get assistance [AFP]

Chile has begun three days of national mourning after an 8.8-magnitude earthquake killed hundreds of people and damaged infrastructure.

Flags will be lowered across the country on Sunday as officials struggle to establish the exact number of the dead.

The official toll was initially put at 802 people, but that was subsequently revised down to 452 confirmed deaths after it emerged that in some areas people who were simply missing had been listed as dead.

Emergency workers, meanwhile, are still struggling to cope with problems caused by a series of strong after-shocks as well as dealing with the devastation triggered by the original quake.

Around 500, 000 homes were destroyed by the earthquake and sanitary conditions for many still living on the streets have become a growing concern.

"We have cases of gastroenteritis, respiratory problems, and we've had heart problems due to fears caused by recent aftershocks," Carlos Barra, a doctor working in a health centre near Concepcion, the quake's epicentre, told the AFP news agency.

Returning to normal

Despite the devastation, life was slowly beginning to return to normal, news agencies reported.

Vaccinations against hepatitis and tetanus had started in the town of Constitucion, Patricio Rosende, the deputy interior minister, said.

The UN renewed a pledge to provide international aid to Chile, with Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general, touring Concepcion on Saturday.

in depth
Volunteers help Chile quake victims

"The Chilean government is asking for international aid and we will give it," Ban said.

"Your people were generous enough to rush to Haiti when it was hit, now it is the moment for the international community to stand with the Chilean people.

"I can feel all this, for your loss, for your struggle."

Ban spoke as the first shipment of food from the UN's World Food Programme arrived in Chile in response to the government's request for help.

"This is the first shipment of 70 tonnes (of food)," the Reuters news agency quoted Francisco Espejo, a WFP representative, as saying.

"The total is to help 35,000 children over the next five days, giving them portions that total 480 calories.

"We are channelling the aid jointly with national organisations that will ensure an adequate distribution throughout the most affected zones."

Al Jazeera and agencies
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