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Many Chile quake survivors pin hopes on new leader

DICHATO, Chile - The earthquake and tsunami smashed this pretty little tourist town into splinters, leaving immense piles of wreckage and an awful stench.

Rooting through the remains yesterday, residents said they are pinning their hopes for renewal on the new president, a conservative billionaire who takes office next week.

Nothing short of mammoth reconstruction can return Dichato to a semblance of what it was, and survivors here, and throughout the disaster zone, said they're hoping President-elect Sebastian Piñera is up to the job.

"Chile is a country on the rise, economically strong . . . And because of this we expected more" of President Michelle Bachelet's moderate socialist administration, said Amanda Ruiz, a secretary in a construction firm. "We're disillusioned."

"I think he [Piñera] has the ability to do it," said Luis Omar Cid Jara, 66, whose bakery and roast chicken shop on Dichato's main street were destroyed in the quake that struck Feb. 27.

Critics said Bachelet initially was reluctant to summon the military to stop looting and deliver aid, given the armed forces' brutal repression of the Chilean left in the past, especially during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Piñera, who takes office March 11, stepped up his criticism of the outgoing president. He called yesterday for a sweeping modernization of Chile's disaster system.

The magnitude-8.8 quake, one of the strongest on record, and the tsunami that followed ravaged a 435-mile stretch of Chile's Pacific coast. In Dichato at least 19 people were killed.

The Chilean government declared a three-day mourning period starting Sunday.


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