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Three years before Chile will recover from quake

Chile believes it will take three years to recover from the devastation caused by its massive earthquake.

President Michelle Bachelet said she was confident “Chile will rise” from the devastation — but not as fast as some might want.

Powerful aftershocks continued to rock the area. A magnitude 6.0 aftershock shook the quake-hit city of Concepcion yesterday, sending frightened residents running out of buildings in their underwear.

Several hours later a magnitude 6.6 shake — the strongest since Sunday — sent people fleeing into the streets yet again.

Many are pinning their hopes for renewal on the new president, conservative billionaire Sebastian Pinera, who takes office next week.

Mr Pinera named new governors for the six hardest-hit regions and told them to get to work even before his inauguration.

His immediate priorities are to find the missing, ensure law and order, restore utilities, and tend to the injured.

He also stepped up his criticism of Ms Bachelet as he called for a sweeping modernisation of Chile's disaster system to eliminate what he called “the lack of co-ordination and the weaknesses that this tragedy has uncovered with brutal eloquence”.

The president-elect said his administration will work more closely with the military on disasters than she has done, and he pledged to rebuild “with the most modern and efficient standards.”

Critics said Ms 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 General Augusto Pinochet.

Top military officers had complained they could not deploy troops to quash looting or deliver aid until she finally declared a state of emergency more than 24 hours after the quake.

Touring an aid distribution centre in the heavily damaged city of Concepcion, Ms Bachelet denied any delays or indecision in the hours following Saturday's pre-dawn quake. The magnitude-8.8 quake — one of the strongest on record — and the tsunami that followed ravaged a 400-mile stretch of Chile's Pacific coast.

The government has identified 279 of the dead, dropping the confirmed official death toll from 802. Officials said the earlier figure includes people listed as missing. Authorities declared a three day official mourning period starting from Sunday.

The army was flying in 320 tons of aid, and the navy was shipping 270 more tons to coastal towns cut off from the rest of Chile.

Chile has asked other countries and the United Nations for help. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon planned to meet both Ms Bachelet and Mr Pinera and tour Concepcion.

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