| GEO World|
| Chile quake toll soars above 700|
| Updated at: 0127 PST, Monday, March 01, 2010|
CONCEPCION: Chile's earthquake toll soared past 700 on Sunday as rescuers raced to find survivors and the grim extent of the disaster emerged in coastal areas where homes were washed away by a giant wave.
President Michelle Bachelet said she expected the number of deaths to increase further, while her government admitted it had erred by failing to warn Chileans about the tsunami risk following Saturday's 8.8-magnitude quake.
"There was a mistake," said Defense Minister Francisco Vidal. The navy "made a mistake by not issuing a tsunami alert."
A giant wave generated by the quake engulfed seaside towns, washing away entire homes and leaving desperate residents to stare in disbelief at the seaweed clinging to what was left of their livelihoods.
"The wave came and covered everything. It was something like six meters (20 feet) high, Carlos Palma told media, as he tried to salvage belongings in the seaside town of Penco.
The mayor of Chile's devastated second city of Concepcion pleaded urgently for help as rescuers with heat detectors hunted scores of people believed to be trapped in a 15-story apartment block toppled on its back by the quake.
Police fired tear-gas and water cannons to try to disperse looters there, some of whom dragged shopping trollies full of basic provisions while others made off with plasma TVs and electrical appliances.
"We need food for the population. We are without supplies, and if we don't resolve that we are going to have serious security problems during the night," said mayor Jacqueline van Rysselberghe, warning of grave "social tension."
Bachelet, who is due to hand over power to her successor Sebastian Pinera on March 11, put the toll Sunday at 708 and said the government was beginning to distribute food and vital aid to the shell-shocked population.
Aftershocks continued to rattle the country with alarming regularity -- more than 115 were recorded in the first 30 hours after the quake, one a powerful 6.1-magnitude striking at 8:25 am local time (1125 GMT).
Residents in the capital Santiago awoke after an anxious night spent sleeping out-of-doors, fearful that badly damaged buildings could topple on their heads.
"It would be crazy for us to go back inside. This is going to fall at any moment," Mary, sleeping a few feet from her home alongside her husband and three sons, told media.