President Michelle Bachelet waded into a throng of survivors in this devastated coastal village. Amid outstretched hands, she embraced Carolina Vera, whose simple wood home was smashed into a pile of sticks by an oversized wave.
"She's been so good to us," Vera said. "I never thought I'd get the chance to be this close to a president. Now I feel more protected."
Bachelet, who leaves office Thursday, had planned to spend the past two weeks doing a victory lap around Chile as she wound down her four-year term.
Instead, the Feb. 27 earthquake and tsunamis forced Bachelet into emergency mode. She has spent her final days as president as Comforter in Chief, a role that comes naturally to a pediatrician credited with healing scars left from Chile's 17-year military dictatorship, first as defense minister and then as president.
Bachelet, 58, has faced criticism in recent days for not sending troops into the disaster zone until after looters spent two days sacking stores in Concepción and other cities.
But Roberto Mendez, who served as incoming President Sebastian Piñera's pollster, said Bachelet will emerge with popularity intact.
"She still has an 84 percent approval rating," Mendez said. "I can't believe it. Her reputation overcame an 8.8-magnitude earthquake."
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