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Chile forest fires: Hundreds of people missing as death toll reaches 122

Author
Patricia Luna and Manuel Rueda,
Publish Date
Tue, 6 Feb 2024, 10:05am
Residents clean up amid the rubble of homes burned by deadly forest fires in Vina Del Mar. Photo / AP
Residents clean up amid the rubble of homes burned by deadly forest fires in Vina Del Mar. Photo / AP

Chile forest fires: Hundreds of people missing as death toll reaches 122

Author
Patricia Luna and Manuel Rueda,
Publish Date
Tue, 6 Feb 2024, 10:05am

Volunteers in central Chile tried to remove charred metal, broken glass and other debris from neighbourhoods devastated by wildfires over the past several days, as officials raised the death toll to 122. Hundreds of people remain missing. 

The fires appeared to have diminished after burning intensely since Thursday on the eastern edge of the city of Vina del Mar. Two other towns in the Valparaiso region, Quilpe and Villa Alemana, also have been hit hard, and President Gabriel Boric said on Sunday at least 3000 homes had been burned down in the area. 

A further 10 victims were added to the death toll, bringing it to 122, the director of Chile’s Forensic Medical Service, Marisol Prado, said. 

Prado said many bodies were in bad condition and difficult to identify, but forensic workers would be taking samples of genetic material from people who had reported missing relatives. Vina del Mar Mayor Macarena Ripamonti said at least 370 people had been reported missing in the city of about 300,000 residents. 

The fires ravaged several neighbourhoods precariously built on the mountains that loom to the east of Vina del Mar, which is a popular beach resort. 

Pricila Rivero, a chef from the neighbourhood of Alto Miraflores, said it took about 15 minutes for the flames to travel from a neighbouring hill to her home. 

She said she rushed her children to safety when she saw the fire approaching, but by the time she returned to salvage some of her possessions her house was burning, with licks of flame emerging from the windows. 

The fires ravaged several neighbourhoods in Vina Del Mar, Chile. Photo / APThe fires ravaged several neighbourhoods in Vina Del Mar, Chile. Photo / AP 

“It’s the place where we have lived all our lives,” Rivero said. “It’s so sad to see it destroyed, and to lose our memories, our photos, the pictures from my parents’ wedding, but some of that will remain in our hearts.” 

Schools and other public buildings in Vina del Mar and in the capital Santiago are serving as depots where people are taking donations of water, food, candles and shovels for the victims of the fires. 

In Vina del Mar and the nearby towns of Villa Alemana and Quilpe, police have asked people who have not been affected by the fires to stay at home so that rescue crews can move around with more ease. 

Marco Delgadillo in his burnt-out home after forest fires reached El Oliver neighbourhood, in Vina Del Mar. Photo / AP Marco Delgadillo in his burnt-out home after forest fires reached El Oliver neighbourhood, in Vina Del Mar. Photo / AP 

Hundreds of people affected by the fires returned to their homes today to search through the debris. Many said they preferred to sleep near their homes to prevent looters from taking what is left of their possessions, or from claiming the land their homes were built on. 

- NZ Herald

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