Clinton brings phones, promises to quake-hit Chile

SANTIAGO, Chile — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made a small dent in Chile's growing needs following Saturday's massive earthquake, handing over 25 satellite phones Tuesday while promising more in the country's capital.

"We stand ready to help in any way that the government of Chile asks us to. We want to help Chile who has done so much to help others," Clinton said during a brief visit that took her nowhere near areas with heavy damage. She spent most of her time at an undamaged area of the airport.

Clinton toured an area of the airport where tea, flour and other supplies were being loaded into boxes for shipment to parts of the country where supplies are short.

"There is no doubt in my mind, as we stand here at an airport that thankfully is functioning and relief flights are coming in, that Chile is prepared, is dealing with this massive disaster and will be on the road to an even better recovery in the future," she said.

Clinton gave one of the donated phones directly to current President Michelle Bachelet, who had said shortly after Saturday's predawn quake that her country did not need much help from other nations. That changed as the magnitude of the disaster became clear — power, water, food and medical care are urgent needs in the country's second-largest city, Concepcion, and along a coast hit by both the quake and a resulting tsunami.

The United States has pledged additional help, including a field hospital with surgical facilities that Clinton said is "ready to go."

The United States is sending more satellite phones, which work in areas where land lines and cell phone towers are out of commission. Chile identified the phones as a high priority, Clinton said.

Also on the way are eight water purification systems, generators, medical equipment and supplies. Other donations could include mobile kitchens, temporary bridges and helicopters. The amount of such aid will depend on what Chile requests, Clinton said.

If the initial U.S. donation seems small, U.S. officials say it is in part a reflection of Chile's initial reluctance to ask for more. U.S. officials said Chile would not have to repay any U.S. assistance. Officials could not offer specifics as to when the additional U.S. aid would arrive.

Clinton brings phones, promises to quake-hit Chile 03/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 2, 2010 10:57pm]

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