CONCEPCIÓN, Chile - Rescuers found signs of life in the wreckage of a 15-story building yesterday as the world offered aid to victims of an earthquake that killed more than 700 people. Looters roamed the streets even after troops and police arrested dozens of people for violating a curfew.
The toll of dead rose to 723, with 19 others missing, the National Emergency Office said, in a magnitude-8.8 quake that President Michelle Bachelet called "an emergency without parallel in Chile's history."
Some coastal towns were almost obliterated, first shaken by the quake, then slammed by a tsunami that carried whole houses inland and crushed others into piles of sticks. Shocked survivors were left without power, water or food.
In Concepción, the biggest city near the epicenter, rescuers heard the knock of trapped victims inside a toppled 70-unit apartment building and began to drill through thick walls to reach them, said fire department Commander Juan Carlos Subercaseux.
Only the chop of military helicopters flying overhead broke the silence demanded by rescuers straining to hear signs of life inside the building.
Firefighters had already pulled 25 survivors and nine bodies from the structure.
Mayor Jacqueline van Rysselberghe told Radio Cooperativa that some food aid was arriving in the city of 200,000 yesterday for distribution to the hungry.
Electricity was still out, however, water was scarce and looters re-emerged at dusk despite beefed-up security. Dozens of people sacked stores of food, clothing and drugs, fleeing when police appeared to drive them away. Some struck gas stations, stealing cash from attendants.
As a small military convoy of drove down the main avenue, bystanders applauded and shouted, "Finally! Finally!"
Concepción police chief Eliecer Soler said 55 people were arrested for violating a nighttime curfew imposed after looters sacked nearly every market in town Sunday. Troops ordered into the city by Bachelet patrolled to enforce security.
Spanish professor Eduardo Aundez watched with disgust as a soldier patiently waited for looters to rummage through a downtown store, then lobbed two tear gas canisters into the rubble to get them out.
"I feel abandoned" by authorities, he said. "We believe the government didn't take the necessary measures in time, and now supplies of food and water are going to be much more complicated."
The UN said that it would rush aid deliveries to Chile after Bachelet appealed for international aid. UN humanitarian spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said Chile was seeking temporary bridges, field hospitals, satellite phones among other things.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also offered to provide disaster aid. Traveling in Uruguay, Clinton said she would bring some communications equipment when she visits Chile today.