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Forest fires kill 112 in Chile's worst disaster since 2010 earthquake


Mon 05 Feb 2024 | 08:51 AM
  Wildfires
Wildfires
Basant Ahmed

Firefighters in central Chile on Sunday battled to quell fierce forest fires that have killed 112 people so far and razed entire neighborhoods, while President Gabriel Boric warned the country faces a "tragedy of very great magnitude", Reuters reported. 

Hundreds of people are still missing, authorities say, stoking fears the death toll will keep climbing as more bodies are found on hillsides and houses devastated by the wildfires.

The fires that gathered momentum on Friday now menaced the outer edges of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso, two coastal cities popular with tourists. The urban sprawl of those cities accounts for more than a million residents west of the capital Santiago.

Drone footage filmed by Reuters in Vina del Mar area showed whole neighborhoods scorched, with residents rummaging through husks of burnt-out houses where corrugated iron roofs have collapsed. On the streets, singed cars littered the roads.

Chilean authorities have introduced a 9 p.m. curfew in the hardest-hit areas and sent in the military to help firefighters stem the spread of fires, while helicopters dumped water to try to douse the flames from the air.

Chile's Legal Medical Service, the state coroner, said 112 people have died in the fires. The death toll stood at 51 on Saturday.

Earlier in the day Boric, announcing two days of national mourning starting on Monday, said Chile should prepare itself for more bad news.

"It is Chile as a whole that suffers and mourns our dead," Boric said in a televised speech to the nation. "We are facing a tragedy of very great magnitude."

Deputy Interior Minister Manuel Monsalve on Sunday said 165 fires raged across Chile and estimated about 14,000 homes have been damaged in the Vina del Mar and Quilpué areas alone.

Those who returned to their ravaged homes found them almost unrecognizable, with many losing all their life's possession.