Starving quake victims, including well-dressed housewives, old men and schoolchildren, stormed down city streets, shouting that they had seen none of the food pouring in from around the world.
Sturdy young men kicked the metal shutters of a supermarket until they gave way. Hundreds of people stormed in. As word spread that troops were on their way, they threw food outside for the others to pick up.
People fought among themselves to grab anything they could find. Food was scattered across the street and the most desperate victims scooped up handfuls of rice.
When troops arrived, they were obviously confused and reluctant to shoot. Later, apparently encouraged by the troops' stance, hundreds of people destroyed the wire mesh fence of a Colombian Red Cross warehouse. They knocked one another over as they grabbed what they needed most, from bottles of water to foam mattresses. "We've been abandoned. This is not stealing. My family is starving," shouted an old man.
Aan unidentified army colonel said: "We're not going to shoot our own people. We're here for their security. These people are desperate. They need food."
The soldiers' reaction appeared to isolate President Andres Pastrana and politicians, widely criticised for failing to distribute several hundred tons of food that have arrived since Monday's quake.