Four days after an earthquake devastated this town of 25,000, leveling two out of every three houses, most of those left homeless are still without even temporary shelter.
Families who have spent their third night sleeping the dusty streets on blankets or mattresses dug from the ruins linger with resignation near what once were their homes. They protest to passersby that only drinking water and a trickle of emergency food supplies have been distributed by the government, even though roads and a nearby airfield have been open since a few hours after the quake early Wednesday morning.
The earthquake, measuring over 7 on the Richter scale, flattened large party of eight towns and farming villages - leaving 65 dead, several hundred seriously injured and more than 20,000 without homes in this wine-growing district a few miles from the Andes mountains.
During a tour of the area yesterday by the Argentine president, Gen. Jorge Videla, some Caucete townspeople lifted their arms toward the passing official motorcade in a gesture of suplication and bitterness and shouted: "Food, Beds, Tents, Water, Sugar."
The provincial capital, San Juan, is only 17 miles from Caucete but received only minor damage. There, daily life goes on as usual in sharp contrast to the miserable conditions only a 20-minute taxi ride away.
An elderly resident of Caucete, where most of the deaths occurred and which is the center of the rescue operation complained: "We go to the town hall for food and they say the food is at a wine warehouse across town. We go there with our shopping bags and they tell us the food will be distributed by truck, street-by-street. Do they think we can live on water alone?"
Rescue officials said hundreds of military tents had been flown to the area within 48 hours of the quake, but the only government tents in evidenct during Videla's 90-minute tour were those neatly stacked inside a food warehouse he visited.
Caucete and the surrounding villages qualified as a poverty area even before the disaster, and the level of destruction followed somewhat the pattern of wealth and poverty. Still standing among the surrounding rubbleare the homes whose owners could afford to build with concrete and steel reinforcement. Of the 90 per cent of Caucete's houses that are built of adobe walls, crude poplar beams and cane-and-mud roofs, few survived.
Segundo Peralta, a 63-year-old mason, said he built many of the adobe houses, including his own which collapsed in the quake. "We are poor people," he said. "There is no money to build with bricks and steel."
An earthquake of about the same intensively as last week's hit the area in 1944, destroying most of San Juan city but sparing Caucete. Five thousand died in that quake, most of them in adobe buildings.
"We never expected this here," added Paralta, "because nothing happened to us in 1944, so we kept on using adobe." Adobe construction was not permitted within city limits after the 1944 quake, he said, but the regulations were not enforced.
About 30 identical new houses ina development, built to meet standards, received only minor damage.
The sour smell of spilled wine pervades the air here. There are 300 wineries in the eathequake area, a vintner said, and only about 50 are housed in modern building. Millions of liters of wine flowed from ruptured wooden wine casks at wineries where buildings collapsed. Although the modern Esmeralda winery, the town's largest employer, was undamaged and resumed regular shifts on Friday, it will be months before equipment can be replaced at other wineries.
The atmosphere in the stricken town is also laden with fatalism. There are few signs that victims have begun to rebuild their lives. Some say they to plan to emigrate.
A common scene is that of men and women sitting at carditables in the street slipping mate an herb tea, through metal straws.
The earth still shudders frequently in heavy after-shocks but only visitors pay much attention.