SANTIAGO – The new president of Chile, Sebastian Piñera, on Saturday allowed a period of two months for getting the areas of health, education and roadways back to normal following the Feb. 27, magnitude-8.8 earthquake that devastated the country’s south-central region.
Piñera made that commitment at the beginning of a two-day visit to the Maule and Bio Bio regions, the hardest hit by the massive quake, and announced a reconstruction plan for the almost 1 million damaged homes.
The president traveled early Saturday to the town of Concepcion, 515 kilometers (320 miles) south of Santiago and shaken Saturday by a new magnitude-5.8 aftershock, according to the University of Chile Seismological Service.
The epicenter of that latest temblor, detected at 7:34 a.m. local time, was 47 kilometers (29 miles) west of the coastal town of Lebu, which is 140 kilometers (87 miles) south of Concepcion.
In the nearby town of Talcahuano, devastated by the earthquake and ensuing tsunami on Feb. 27, Piñera, on his third day as president, set a maximum period of 60 days for resolving the priority areas of health, education and roadways.
Specifically, he told Education Minister to get the close to 1.2 million children, who have not yet started their school year, back to class in no more than 45 days.
Lavin said Saturday that around 560,000 students will not be able to return to their original schools and will have to be relocated elsewhere, and added that earthquake damages to the educational sector are estimated at $2.1 billion.
Piñera also asked the head of the Health Ministry, Jaime Mañalich, to normalize medical care by means of field and emergency hospitals, given that 18 public medical centers in the country were damaged by the temblor.
Meanwhile Public Works Minister Hernan de Solminihac will have to take charge of repairing the most urgently needed elements of infrastructure to be able to get the country’s productive system back to work.
Mañalich and Solminihac estimate earthquake damage at some $3.6 billion in the case of hospitals and some $1.2 billion in public infrastructure.
Piñera also said Friday that the total damage caused by the quake was worth $30 billion.
Finally, the president said that Economy Minister Juan Andres Fontaine is already working on a plan to restore the fishing industry, seriously affected by the tsunami, by means of subsidies and low-interest loans for repairing and purchasing fishing boats.
Among the novelties announced Saturday was also a program for reconstructing homes that can be restored, installing prefabricated houses and providing aid for homeowners to repair their own dwellings.
Piñera also said that the administration will send to Congress “in the next few days” two bills that have already been announced.
One of them will be an emergency bill, aimed at using all the tools and resources available to deal with the emergency, and the other will be for reconstruction and will imply “a far-reaching reformulation” of the 2010 budget.
Meanwhile the head of state said he favored keeping the curfew that has been in force since Feb. 28 in the Maule and Bio Bio regions “as long as necessary to guarantee public order and citizens’ safety.”
After his visit to Talcahuano, Piñera was to proceed Saturday to the coastal towns of Dichato, Cauquenes, Pelluhue and Curanipe, and will wind up his tour in Talca, 260 kilometers (162 miles) south of Santiago, traveling Sunday to Iloca and Curico before returning to the capital.