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World pledges aid to quake-hit Chile

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(PARIS) - The US pledged assistance and the European Union promised three million euros in immediate help to quake-hit Chile Saturday, as aid workers rushed to the Western hemisphere's second major quake in seven weeks.

The United States "stands ready to assist in the rescue and recovery efforts, and we have resources that are positioned to deploy should the Chilean government ask for our help," President Barack Obama said in a televised address from Washington.

"On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to the Chilean people," the US president added of the 8.8 magnitude earthquake that has killed scores in Chile and sent a tsunami surging across the Pacific.

In Brussels, European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso promised more help was ready, if needed.

"I am deeply shocked at the extent of the devastation that is emerging," Barroso said.

As a "first step", he said, the commission's humanitarian aid department would release the three million euros (four million dollars) "to relieve suffering and meet the immediate needs."

Barroso said the bloc "stands ready to do whatever it takes to help the Chilean authorities at this time of need."

Meanwhile, the British Red Cross released 50,000 pounds (76,000 dollars) from its disaster fund for Chile.

"We anticipate the situation in the worst affected areas closer to the epicentre to be much more serious," said Pete Garratt, the British Red Cross disaster relief manager.

"Our fear is that this quake will have had large scale impact."

UN chief Ban Ki-moon was "very closely monitoring developments, including the risk of Pacific Rim tsunamis, after the huge earthquake in Chile," his office said in a statement.

"The secretary-general expresses his condolences to those who have lost family and friends and wishes those injured a speedy recovery."

International aid charities said they were dispatching experts to Chile but predicted that the devastation would be far lower than in Haiti where a January 12 quake killed 200,000 people.

British charity Oxfam said it was sending five water engineers and logistics experts from Chile to Colombia.

Disaster relief charity ShelterBox said it was mobilising an initial response team from Britain and the United States.

A number of countries sent their condolences to the Latin American country.

"The people of Chile are in agony today but Britain stands ready to help. We will do whatever we can," said British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed his "deep emotion," while Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Paris "in consultation with its European Union partners is ready to respond to the Chilean demands for assistance."

Argentine President Cristina Kirchner also pledged assistance.

For its part, Switzerland said it was sending a "small assessment team" to Chile to examine whether the country has any specific needs, Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesman Erik Reumann told AFP.

EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said she had activated a crisis monitoring unit and told aid experts "to undertake urgent needs assessments if required".

For her part, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said she would be "in close contact" with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and her successor Sebastian Pinera.

"This is the second time in a short period of time that the Americas are hit by a massive earthquake. We do not know yet the full impact of this disaster," Ashton said.

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