Family In Chile Sends E-Mail That They Are Ok As The Death Toll Now Rises To Over 700

Erin Ritter the daughter of Bull and Ann Ritter released an email to WITN sent to her from her parents who were in Chile when the 8.8 magnitude earth quake hit.

The two were in Chile while visting their daughter Cori who is a student at UNC-Willmington and currently studying abroad.

The University says at least 7 students are there as part of a program called Pacific Catholic University Valparaiso.

Below is a copy of the email followed by the latest on the situation in Chile:

"We are ok. Our hotel was destroyed, did not fall but ceiling tiles and fractured structure. Lose wires, burst pipes, and ceiling tiles dropped right next to Cori´s bed. No lights.

Happened about 3:50 our time 1:50 yours. We were on the second floor. Lasted about 2 minutes. I believe 8.5 on the Richter (sp). Thought at first it was tornado as we have never experienced earthquake.

Cori had the good sense to evacuate us. I was going to go back to sleep. We went outside got away from buildings in green park space with another family from California and waited until it got daylight, hurried back into the building, packed and went down the street 1 block to our sister hotel that had not been damaged.

All subways closed, most shops are now closed although we really don´t see much damage in the area we are in. Airport closed for two days and roads to Santa Cruz (our Sunday destination) are closed.

Internet down at the hotel. I am at local street business on community computer.

We had an aftershock around 9AM and I understand more are expected.

We are ok, however in other parts of Santiago, there is immense damage and suffering."

Now the latest on Chile:

Heroism and banditry mingled on Chile's shattered streets Sunday as rescuers braved aftershocks digging for survivors and the government sent soldiers and ordered a nighttime curfew to quell looting. The death toll climbed to 708 in one of the biggest earthquakes in centuries.

In the hard-hit city of Concepcion, firefighters pulling survivors from a toppled apartment block were forced to pause because of tear gas fired to stop looters, who were wheeling off everything from microwave ovens to canned milk at a damaged supermarket across the street.

Efforts to determine the full scope of destruction were undermined by an endless string of terrifying aftershocks that continued to turn buildings into rubble. Officials said 500,000 houses were destroyed or badly damaged, and President Michele Bachelet said "a growing number" of people were listed as missing.

"We are facing a catastrophe of such unthinkable magnitude that it will require a giant effort" to recover, Bachelet said after meeting for six hours with ministers and generals in La Moneda Palace, itself chipped and cracked.

She signed a decree giving the military control over security in the province of Concepcion, where looters were pillaging supermarkets, gas stations, pharmacies and banks. Men and women hurried away with plastic containers of chicken, beef and sausages.

Virtually every market and supermarket had been looted — and no food or drinking water could be found. Many people in Concepcion expressed anger at the authorities for not stopping the looting or bringing in supplies. Electricity and water services were out of service.

"We are overwhelmed," a police officer told The Associated Press.

Bachelet said a curfew was being imposed from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. and only security forces and other emergency personnel would be allowed on the streets. Police vehicles drove around announcing the curfew over loudspeakers.

As nightfall neared, hundreds of people put up tents and huddled around wood fires in parks and the grassy medians of avenues, too fearful to return to their homes amid continuing strong aftershocks.

Bachelet, who leaves office on March 11, said the country would accept some of the offers of aid that have poured in from around the world.

She said Chile needs field hospitals and temporary bridges, water purification plants and damage assessment experts — as well as rescuers to help relieve workers who have been laboring frantically since the magnitude-8.8 quake struck before dawn Saturday.

To strip away any need for looting, Bachelet announced that essentials on the shelves of major supermarkets would be given away for free, under the supervision of authorities. Soldiers and police will also distribute food and water, she said.

Although houses, bridges and highways were damaged in Santiago, the national capital, a few flights managed to land at the airport and subway service resumed.

More chaotic was the region to the south, where the shaking was the strongest and where the quake generated waves that lashed coastal settlements, leaving behind sticks, scraps of metal and masonry houses ripped in two.

In the village of Lloca, a beachside carnival was caught in the tsunami. A carousel was twisted on its side and a ferris wheel rose above the muddy wreckage.

In Concepcion, the largest city in the disaster zone, a new, 15-story apartment building toppled onto its side. Many of those who lived on the side that wound up facing the sky could clamber out; those on the other were trapped. An estimated 60 people remained trapped in the 70-unit apartment building.

Police officer Jorge Guerra took names of the missing from a stream of tearful relatives and friends. He urged them to be optimistic because about two dozen people had been rescued.

"There are people alive. There are several people who are going to be rescued," he said — though the next people pulled from the wreckage were dead.

Concepcion's main hospital was operating, though patients in an older half of the building were moved into hallways as a precaution.

Rescuers worked carefully for fear of aftershocks. Ninety jolts of magnitude 5 or greater shuddered across the region in the first 24 hours after the quake, including one nearly as large as the earthquake that devastated Haiti on Jan. 12.

Firefighters in Concepcion were about to lower a rescuer deep into the rubble when the scent of tear gas fired at looters across the street forced them to interrupt their efforts.

"It's sad, but because of the situation you have to confront the robberies and at the same time continue the search," Guerra said.

The sound of chain saws, power drills and sledgehammers breaking through concrete competed with the whoosh of a water cannon fired at looters and the shouts of crowds that found new ways into a four-story supermarket each time police retreated.

One woman ran off with a shopping cart piled high with slabs of unwrapped meat and cheese. A shirtless man carried a mattress on his head. Some of the looters pitched rocks at police armored vehicles outside the Lider market, which is majority-owned by Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Across the Bio Bio River in the city of San Pedro, looters cleared out a shopping mall. A video store was set ablaze, two automatic teller machines were broken open, a bank was robbed and a supermarket emptied, its floor littered with mashed plums, scattered dog food and smashed liquor bottles.

"It was a mob. They looted everything," said police Sgt. Rene Gutierrez, 46, who had his men guarding the now-empty mall. "Now we're only here to protect the building — what's left of the building."

He said police had been slow to reach the looted mall because one bridge over the river was collapsed and the other so damaged they had to move cautiously.

Ingenious looters even used long tubes of bamboo and plastic to siphon gasoline from underground tanks at a closed gasoline station. Others rummaged through the station's restaurant.

Thieves attacked a flour mill in Concepcion — some toting away bags on their shoulders, others using bicycles or cars. One man packed a school bus with sacks of flour.

Many defended the scavenging — of food if not television sets — as a necessity because officials had not brought food or water. Even Concepcion's mayor, Jacqueline van Rysselberghe, complained that no food aid was reaching the city. She said the federal government should send troops to help halt the looting.

In Talca, where old adobe buildings in the town center were flattened, many spent the night outside, huddled beneath blankets on lawn chairs, sleeping on a mattress hauled from a damaged home or sheltering in camping tents.

State television showed scenes of devastation in coastal towns and more still on Robinson Crusoe Island, where it said the tsunami drove almost 2 miles (3 kilometers) into the town of San Juan Bautista. Officials said at least five people were killed there and more were missing.

The surge of water raced across the Pacific, setting off alarm sirens and evacuations from Hawaii to Japan, but it did little damage.

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  • by Neo Location: Reality on Mar 6, 2010 at 05:20 AM
    The western end of Martin County; Parmele, Robersonville, Hassell, Oak City, Hamilton, Everetts and surrounding areas is one giant rural slum. White flight has killed the economy, real estate values, community standards and public safety. The local consolidated high school, Roanoke, has seen it's enrollment drop from around 750 to below 300 students. The local gang bangers are starting to go to Greenville, Tarboro and Rocky Mount to steal because there is nothing left in western Martin County worth breaking into a dwelling to take. Williamston has deteriorated into this same situation as evidenced by the drop in enrollment at Williamston High School from over 800 students just 20 to 30 years ago to what has been recently reported to be less than 450 students. If the Martin Co BOE had just waited these two schools would have closed themselves by running out of students. Yeah, that is a picture of downtown zombieville, Williamston NC, "Baykha's" center of all human existence.
  • by house Location: martin county on Mar 5, 2010 at 11:34 AM
    don't be talking about the western end of the county!!!
  • by Cornholio Location: Parmele on Mar 5, 2010 at 08:59 AM
    I thought this was a picture of one of the store fronts on Main Street in Williamston. They really should do something about the rundown, dangerous downtown area. There is very little to do at this point other than bulldozing the entire downtown area. I know that the old money people in Williamston still want to hold on to the memories of Williamston's hayday when they had a population of over 7,000 in town and about 30,000 in the kingdom of Martin, but hello, the middle class has left the building and the place is falling down. Enrollment at the local schools is half of what it was 30 years ago. Clean your dump up and stop strangling anyone who isn't among the elites and you may be able to save the county from third world status. Well,'s dead already, like a cold fish. There is nobody left in Williamston and the entire western end of Martin County except a few old money elites, project dwellers and those too broke to leave. Call FEMA and ask for disaster relief.
  • by Toppin Location: Washington on Mar 4, 2010 at 08:58 PM
    I went and checked downtown Williamston. This is definitely a picture from downtown Williamston NC. This is a picture of one of the nicer buildings in Williamston. It is a run down, dumpy town. The citizens should demand that the town crank up the bulldozers and plow the whole downtown area under. It is dangerous the way those buildings have been allowed to deteriorate. Amazingly a couple of the dozens of delapidated buildings in Williamston are still occupied. It looks like a bombed out war zone in Beirut, but like 'Baykha' says, "Until white flight completely kills the county" (estimated to be about 12.5 years from today), "Williamston is still the center of all human existence on earth". At least it is in the mind of the few old money Williamston elites still living among the project dwellers. Sell Baykha, sell! Get out while you can!! Toppin!!
  • by Anonymous on Mar 1, 2010 at 08:33 AM
    Looks like Williamston, that is the Ritter's home town and this picture does look like downtown Williamston. It's pretty run down, so who knows.
  • by Cornholio Location: Parmele on Feb 28, 2010 at 09:00 PM
    Is that a picture from Chile or Williamston?

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