CONCEPCION, Chile — Four days after a deadly earthquake, Chile's military finally rolled out a massive humanitarian aid effort Wednesday that promised to improve an image long associated with dictatorship-era repression.
The dump trucks that soldiers spent all night helping fill with bags of food made their first deliveries in a neighborhood of military families who already had enough to eat.
After days of looting, rifle-toting troops occupied nearly every block of hard-hit Concepcion on Wednesday, enforcing a curfew that expired at noon with checkpoints throughout the city. With the streets more secure, they focused on aid.
Soldiers had worked overnight stuffing basics including flour, canned beans, cooking oil and tea into hundreds of plastic bags that volunteers loaded into dump trucks. Municipal workers then distributed the bags to survivors, many of whom had gone without fresh food or drinking water since Saturday's quake.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The convoy rolled minutes after the curfew expired — the first of many to deploy throughout the disaster area, army Lt. Col. Juan Carlos Andrades said.
Its first stop: A neighborhood inhabited by military families, next to army headquarters in Concepcion.
"This entire block belongs to the army," said Yanira Cifuentes, 31, the very first to get aid. She said her husband is an officer.
Cifuentes said the aid was welcome after days of sleeping in tents and sharing food with neighbors over a wood fire. But she also said the neighborhood hadn't gone hungry because residents had access to food at the regiment.
Army Cmdr. Antonio Besamat said local authorities controlled food distribution, with the armed forces providing only security. Juan Piedra of the National Emergency Office said civilian officials must follow military decisions under terms of the state of emergency declared by President Michelle Bachelet.
Some residents were angry not at the troops but at the local government, which had announced Tuesday that none of the first aid shipments would go to neighborhoods inhabited by people who took goods from ruined stores. Many of those neighborhoods are Concepcion's poorest.
"Aid should reach those who have nothing first," said Luis Sarzosa, 47, a heavy-equipment operator. "The well-off always get things first and the people with nothing, they leave to the side. "