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Military begins delivering aid to Chile quake victims

CONCEPCIÓN, Chile - Four days after a deadly earthquake, Chile's military finally launched a massive humanitarian aid effort Wednesday that promised to improve an image long associated with dictatorship-era repression.

Its first delivery, however, went to a group of military families who already had food.

After days of looting, rifle-toting army troops occupied nearly every block of hard-hit Concepción yesterday, enforcing a curfew that expired at noon with checkpoints throughout the city. With the streets more secure, they focused on aid.

Soldiers had worked overnight stuffing flour, canned beans, cooking oil and tea into hundreds of plastic bags that volunteers loaded into dump trucks for distribution to survivors, many of whom had gone without fresh food or drinking water since Saturday's quake.

The convoy rolled minutes after the curfew expired, the first of many to deploy throughout the disaster area, said Army Lt. Col. Juan Carlos Andrades.

Its first stop: A neighborhood inhabited by military families, next to army headquarters in Concepción.

"This entire block belongs to the army," said Yanira Cifuentes, 31, the very first to get aid. She said her husband is an officer.

Cifuentes said the aid was welcome after days of sleeping in tents and sharing food with neighbors over a wood fire. But she also said they hadn't gone hungry because residents had access to food at the regiment.

Some residents were angry not at the troops but at City Hall, which had announced Tuesday that none of the first aid shipments would go to neighborhoods inhabited by people who took goods from ruined stores. Many of those neighborhoods are Concepción's poorest.

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