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Clinton takes phones to Chile, pledges aid

SANTIAGO, Chile — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a small dent in Chile's growing needs following a 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.

Meeting with the country's president-elect, Clinton said she is sure Chile is handling the disaster well. "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 said there has been no discussion of sending U.S. troops to help distribute aid or keep order, as was done in Haiti following the far more deadly earthquake there in January.

She 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."

Bachelet's recent requests for outside help come amid rising criticism that her government has been slow to reach with its own resources and slow to ask others to step in. Bachelet has said her government needed time to determine where the needs were greatest.

"We have these things in our country, but how can we get them to the people if we don't have bridges and roads?" said Bachelet, who is nearing the end of her term in office.

Lawlessness and hunger are on the rise. The central government was forced to send thousands of troops to guard against looting and other crime in Concepcion.

Bachelet said it is impossible to know the extent of damage now, but that one estimate is that it will cost $30 billion to rebuild.

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