Embattled Colombia turns to earthquake relief

Relief organizers are trying to speed up operations as the military regains control of the earthquake zone after thousands of hungry families broke into stores to steal everything that wasn't nailed down.

At the single operating relief centre in the city of Armenia, the city hardest hit by Monday's quake, 30,000 people waited half the day for food, clothing and blankets, CBC News reports.

The main task for 3,000 troops sent into the city had been to quell the disturbance, rather than to rescue, relieve and rebuild. Overnight, Armenia remained under a curfew as thousands of soldiers patrolled the streets.

International aid is pledged but has yet to arrive for victims of the quake, which measured 6.0 on the Richter scale, killing about 1,000 and leaving at least 100,000 homeless. Canada is donating $800,000 for electrical generators, supplies and medical aid.

Widespread rioting began Wednesday when a crowd, shouting "We are hungry!" broke into a store, taking food and water -- along with liquor, furniture and television sets.

The crowd grew until all of downtown Armenia had been stripped of anything that could be carted away as vigilantes tried to prevent further raids.

Looting was also reported in neighbouring towns.

Police officials, while condemning the riots, said severe shortages caused the disturbances.

"We haven't got enough people to control this situation," said police Gen. Teodoro Campo. "People are calling for food and we cannot resolve that by beating them with nightsticks."